Digital art on the run..

When asked what it is that I do as an artist, I often falter for the right label. Although my work starts with a photograph, they are not photographs in the common sense. By which I mean they are not documentary or representative art; there are no portraits of people or real landscapes. Nor are they paintings or drawings, although I increasingly use mixed media and collage – so not entirely digital either.

My work begins with images taken from the world around me – found images of surfaces, textures, colours, sometime much as I found them but often “taken for a walk”, to borrow a phrase. I take delight in exploring how far I can transform an image to create a different way of seeing.

The viewer is invited to bring their own imagination to my images. I am sometimes asked “what is this a photo of?” In truth, by the time I have finished with Photoshop, scissors, glue and other additions, it’s not a photograph of anything anymore. One reason for working from found images is to ensure that the final work will retain an “organic” feel, a “memory” of the real world which provides a hook for the viewer. I am continually surprised at what they see.

In capturing images as I walk around, I use whatever I have to hand, which is usually a smart phone –  indeed, I do not own an proper camera. This why I invented the term “digital art on the run”. Now, an image can be from anywhere – no need for the right scene, no need to wait for the light. Indeed, the source material can be banal, a household object or, famously, flaking paint.

As my work develops, I am increasingly drawn to the possibilities of adding layers to a piece using other mark making techniques, mixed media or other print making techniques to add further depth to my work. It is ironic that my work is often very physical in construction, consisting of multiple, collaged or float mounted images. I often explore printing on alternative papers intended for screen-printing or watercolour, surfaces (another surface) not intended for digital ink.  This can change the appearance subtlety, leading to a more painterly effect, and more room for the imagination.

If you are interested:

Possibly the earliest reference to Abstract Photography: Alvin Langdon Coburn in 1916 proposed that an exhibition be organized with the title “Abstract Photography”, for which the entry form would clearly state that “no work will be admitted in which the interest of the subject matter is greater than the appreciation of the extraordinary.” – Rexer, Lyle (2013). The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography. New York: Aperture. ISBN 978-1597112420.

In “Why it does not have to be in focus”, Jackie Higgins analyses 100, mostly contemporary, photographs to reveal why they need not be “crisply rendered, correctly exposed, colour-balanced, framed or even composed by the photographer”. Thames and Hudson, 2013. ISBN978-0-500-29095-8.

“Screwing things up is a virtue” – Robert Rauschenberg – no citation available

“There is a widespread attitude that just to make a photograph is not really art. So it becomes necessary to make it ‘artistic’ by tricking it up in all kinds of ways. It used to be called Pictorialism, and is still very much with us.” – Gerry Badger, The Genius of photography, Quadrille, 2011, ISBN: 1844006093.

In “Playing to the Gallery”, Grayson Perry finds Photography “problematic”. Not entirely seriously he concludes, with the help of Martin Parr, that a photo is art “if it is bigger than two metres and priced higher than five figures. Andreas Gursky’s [faked-up] photo of the Rhine is four metres by two metres and sold for $4.5 million. Particular Books, Penguin, 2014.

Avoid any book with a title such as: ”A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide to Photography” or, as I would have it, “How to make your photographs look like everybody else’s”.

Ian Mckinnell

Sept 2022