Project Ridebo
RA4 Darkroom prints
2014 — 2016

Project Ridebo is a portrait exhibition of Alex Lovell-Smith’s unique, hand-produced photographic images. Each image is generated using an analogue 4x5” camera and wet-process photographic paper. These paper negatives are contact-printed in a darkroom, re-photographed with a film negative, and enlarged to produce the final life-size portraits, using the same paper as the original negatives. This unhurried and deliberate use of analogue processes and techniques produces a portrait that is compelling and purposeful, confronting the viewer with an intense encounter. Such forced removal from our digital cultural landscape to an analogue one is more engaging not only for the photographer, but for the viewer also.

Paper negatives were originally used simply because of issues with accessing the right film alternative. At this infant stage of the project, the final size and purpose of the images was not yet fully fathomed. Furthermore, Lovell-Smith had no idea whether the images would work, as he had manually calculated the equivalent iso level at 3, which doesn’t even come close to the lowest standard iso 50 of film. Yet it is this phenomenally low level, requiring each portrait seen here to be blasted with a huge amount of light in order to render an image, that gives the images such a fascinating deep contrast. So when it became apparent that this was indeed working and the project began to take on an increasingly set direction, it was too late to go back to film given the unique results the paper negative technique was achieving.
This came with its challenges. Enlarging from paper negatives is inherently impossible as, unlike film, it is not transparent and necessitated capturing the images a second time with film. This maintained and accentuated a spooky  alliance between the requisite amount of light and the inherent properties of paper negatives, enhancing an easy-to-miss sense of abstraction and making the images even more compelling.

Project Ridebo channels historical and experimental practices Lovell-
Smith has come to admire, from New Zealand’s contemporary wet plate and ambrotype photographer Ben Cauchi, to Ian Ruhter and his camera-truck. Far from the recent hipster obsession with analogue photography’s “purity,” this series of unique portraits is an engagement with a much longer history of photographic technology and the physical image-object.

This is an analogue, wet, and slow project. Despite current photographic art trends towards the large inkjet print, Project Ridebo is handcrafted in every way. It is project-driven and incomparable, simultaneously nodding to photographic history and combining techniques in an intriguing contemporary way.

- Zane Pocock

Slick Selfies
Digital Photographs   
2016 — 2018

Chapter 5.8 - [Excerpt from MFA Dissertation, 2016]

Slick Selfies is a series of five large-scale, high-resolution images that all feature subjects engaging with their mobile phones or other digital image making devices. The images in this series are so familiar in content - people photographing themselves, taking Selfies in odd locations, posing in front of their own cell phone lens - that we overlook their staged nature and instead engage with the subjects, that are in turn engaging with themselves. The construction of these images and the relationship between the viewer outside of the frame, and the subject engaging with their smartphone, oblivious to the viewer, creates an uneasy dislocation between subject and object, viewed and viewer. They are straddling the line between the instantaneous and the critical; holding a mirror up to the act of Selfies while trying to remain critically distant.

There is also sadness to these images, the zombie-like characters have been placed in these environments; resulting in images that have taken the act of Selfie creation and memorialised it in high resolution. This series is refuting the shift in our relationship with the image and creates a paradox of delayed images taken of instant images being created; Selfies that were never transmitted via social media captured in digital format that has not been deployed in any other way. The “Digital Revolution” of the 1990’s and the increase in digital photography is indicative of a desire to untether the camera from its lack of instantaneity. The precedent for this desire exists with the invention of Polaroid “One Step” film mentioned earlier, but even this was not enough as a method for image sharing. The smartphone camera is the step beyond this, providing a method of capturing parcels of time and transmitting them instantly, globally, all in one device. But there is no chance, no accident when it comes to this method; you are able to choose the image, to orchestrate it, edit it, and then disseminate it across social media networks. Slick Selfies is a documentation of this process, of the orchestration of the “instant” image that is clearly the construction of a fiction. These images are a step outside of the frame of the smartphone screen, bringing a level complexity to the constructed image and loading the snapshot style images with layers of complex construction.

Drawing from the layers of dislocation and pictorial confusion present in both Jeff Walls Picture for Women (1979) and Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1880) this series explores the complexity of the social media image, the Selfie as it exists in the world. The images allude to the complexity of what has come before and hold up a distorted mirror to the process and manipulation of the images that exist as digital ephemera in an interconnected and global network. 54 The photographic images presented in this chapter are a culmination of the past two years of research and experimentation. This project arose from a fascination with the Selfie, and the acceptance of it in our now predominantly image based culture. What developed out of this fascination was a specific interest in the idea of conceptual photography, and how this differs from the Selfie and social media image.

As discussed, these experiments explore methods of resistance to the changes the Selfie has wrought. The different processes and technologies used in these final works is not an obsession with the technology involved in photography, instead this range of technology has all had some part to play in creating a body of work that is a document of a life. These formats, from the digitally archaic Mavica, to Polaroid and modern high resolution digital are all concentrated on removing things from sites and placing them in new sites; taking the landscapes and people photographed in one part of the world and reterritorialising them within this country and this project. This deterrortorialisation and reterrorialisation is what gives this body of work greater meaning than the simple snapshot digital Selfie and the images presented in this chapter are neither a promise for future work nor a referent to a past work. They are embracing the fluidity of the new photographic realm but are maintaining a critical awareness, an ability to see their own construction, each deploying a postmodernist strategy to carry their conceptual ideas forwards into a new, vastly changed photographic world.

||    Personal Stills    ||    2015 - 2019    ||