Roseanne Lynch’s show at the Sternview Gallery is a survey of the artist's uncompromisingly minimal photographic practice. Her images here are, for the most part, pared back abstractions, precise and saturated monochromes in liquid jet black or limpid white, austere but also sensually appealing. Included among the rigorously restrained images however are two works that provide avenues of approach for the viewer, or clues that illuminate her subject matter. Both fall somewhere under the heading of architectural studies – Galatea, Paris (2014), shows a detail of a baroque fountain in brooding chiaroscuro, where an intertwined couple in pale marble are overshadowed by a sooty looming wave of stone. The other ‘clue’ is slightly more enigmatic. Maquette, Paris (2014) in landscape format, appears to show us an aspect of a church or cathedral, one can make out the gothic tracery windows and crumbling stone piers, but midway along the panorama, the building dissolves into a tangle of skeletal lines. On closer inspection, the image resolves as a close up of an architectural model of Abbaye de Cluny photographed through its display case, the building in miniature butted up against a wire model of its internal structure.
Sensitively curated by Pádraig Spillane, the exhibition reveals Lynch as a photographer whose subject matter is also her medium – she is a photographer of photography by way of architecture. The concise selection of work brings together several threads of Lynch’s practice, focusing on her interest in photographing three-dimensional structures in varying degrees of abstraction, a tactic that allows her to explore how three-dimensional structures translate into photography’s two dimensions. Exposures 3-9 (2014) is a series of photograms of enigmatic forms that oscillate between the linear and planar. Paper Construct I (2013) balances two sheets of A4 paper against each other to form an elegantly unfurling teepee shape, the tentative nature of the structure made monumental by its dramatic contrasts of light and dark. Lynch’s work is characterized by its formal clarity, depth of tone, and by subtle references to the medium’s own materiality and process. The assembly in Paper Construct is made from photographic paper, while the mysteriously tenuous structures in the Exposures series turn out to be acetate filters folded into simple architectural shapes, elegantly framed with the tape she uses to stretch the drying prints. Indeed her subject matter, architectural or sculptural structures, harks back to the very beginnings of photography.
The work however, avoids dry Greenbergian formalism, neither is it mired in nostalgia. At a time when much contemporary photography has become obsessed with the conceptual process to the point of aridity, her images are full of pleasure, play and experimentation. It is, according to the artist, a brilliantly alive time for photography. In this age of the digital, we are all photographers; masters of the selfie, adept at choosing the perfect filter and most flattering angle, avid diarists and sophisticated connoisseurs of the image. Photography is, after all, the ultimate democratic medium, but how much can it really communicate about our lived experience? The difference between vision and photography can still catch us out – the camera doesn’t replicate how our vision works, and the indexical premise of photography; that it is a trace of the past, an imprint of the way the light was shining at a particular moment in time, is always, at heart, a failure. The index of a moment communicates information but not ‘what it felt like to be there’. The failures of photography – its evasiveness and its slipperiness, are what Lynch finds compelling. The explosion of the digital, she argues, has given analog photography the chance to be itself, to attend to its own qualities.
She uses a large format 5x4 camera, which allows the user to position the focus wherever they want – this enables her to play upon and to exaggerate the difference between how our eyes see and how things are perceived through photography. Her prints play with depth and recession, emphasising space and light as well as the transitions between interior and exterior. Take for example her two starkly minimal prints on aluminum, Untitled [bw19] (2010) and Untitled [bw4] (2010), which are simply of sheets of metal or perhaps paper angled towards the camera in parallelograms. Similarly Untitled [MACBA] (2012) a gorgeous shimmering abstraction in pearlescent whites turns out to be a photo of a light fitting in the Gallery of Modern Art, Barcelona. However her investigation of the transition or connection between the internal and the external is more than a formal exercise but a concerted effort to interpellate the viewer. Lynch’s work, while subtle and rigorous, is not hermetically self referential, but formally intriguing, and designed to bring our attention to the pleasures and fascinations of perception.
Roseanne Lynch at Sternview Gallery, curated by Pádraig Spillane, ran from 7th July to 30th August 2014.