Lost & Found - by Peter Michael Le Fevre

royal wave
In the one hundred and fifty year existence of the photographic image much has been debated regarding the photography versus painting issue. The predicted death struggle between the traditional and new methods of picture making seemed at first clear and simple.
What emerged initially seemed to be that photography released painting from the burden of verisimilitude to which it was implicitly subjected. It provided painting at first the licence and then the obligation to concentrate on what photography could not do. This worked partially from the premise that photography was the honest and impartial recorder of truth and likeness; it was scientific and unflawed unlike painting with its inherent human frailty.
The moment proved fleeting and the advent of the digital era with its post-millennial fluidity of boundaries and altered images has left us with a discipline that now only retains a residual association to its original observed reality and truth. We had discovered a terra-incognito, the digital world which continually needs exploration and in which the issues of the place of photography and painting need redetermination. Add to this the layered complexities of relationships that are created by an art work and the debate deepens. This is Barry Ross Smith’s territory.

In considering photography as a medium it becomes in essence, a surreal depiction of the world as a series of disassociated bodies, like a collage or a collection of quotations, always the momentary headline and never the novel. It is a scopophiliac activity in which the removal of the hand from the photographic process has concentrated all the attention to the eye, to the exclusion of all other senses.

It is a process of obsessive examination of small fragments without allowing us to view or understand the whole. But in our contemporary experience this could be all that is required of it. The constant and unrelenting production of increasingly facile wallpapered imagery could herald societal decline into a state of visual ennui.

Within this body of work Smith re-engages us in a revitalised debate. He selects photographs from the vast library of anonymous “lost” images that have been found and posted on the net, but which have no apparent attached history or commentary. These intriguing momento-mori recording experiences, which at the point of creation were considered of sufficient significance to be recorded, preserved with the intention of being revisited. They elicit a powerful resonance of recognition, a human empathy of a shared experience. For the viewer on first encounter there tends to be an oscillation between voyeurism and recognition. The human experience of living captured in its banal moments. These images are records of the clumsy performances of photographer and subjects that became the standardised lexicon of much recorded imagery as the technology of film photography became affordable and democratized. Smith renders these everyday images as paintings which mimic the veneer of photography but which upon closer inspection reveal an expressionistic, painterly approach with the artist employing an open handwriting of brushwork which dissolves the truth of the photograph into a disintegration of marks, exposing the construction of illusionism. In these works both disciplines of photography and painting are reinvestigated, there is no longer any claim to sovereignty of vision by either discipline; there have been no deaths and no longer even a vestige of struggle, merely a shift in our thought and vision. These paintings or paint rendered photographs are not images that depend on the photographic source as additional information providers but are works about processes, the artist as the magician hereby revealing his magic, layer by layer. This careful and deliberate deconstruction allows the viewer an active space to exercise a critical scrutiny and for a direct and fascinating engagement with the work.

Peter Michael Le Fevre.