‘A beautiful announcement of death’ (detail), Alexander James 2012, 180 x 135 cms, Edition of 2
Capturing the forgotten alchemy of a medium often considered to serve a purely documentary function, Alexander James creates meticulously crafted scenes immersed in dark tanks of water. For the most part he destroys these creations, leaving behind only the medium format transparencies as documents of these acts.
Through careful manipulation of water and light and without the use of postproduction techniques, the artist has produced a new series of photographic works that weave a deviant historical thread between the mechanical reproduction of today’s image making and the meticulous realism and existential gaze of painters such as Pieter Claesz of the 16th Century Vanitas tradition of painting.
With direct reference to the classical paintings ‘Ophelia’ (1851–52) by John Everett Millais and ‘La Jeune Martyre’ (1855) by Paul De La Roche, ‘A beautiful announcement of death’ takes the tragic story of Hamlet’s Ophelia as a central focus, drawing also a comparison with Alexander James’ own personal experience of a former lover’s suicide.
In James’ practice the camera, like the painter’s oils, is a tool in which to eternally preserve the bodies of the artist’s subjects: at times a collection of inanimate objects held in a purgatory state and at others the bodies of characters inscribed with historical and personal narratives, which the final image forever tells. It is both ironic and telling that water, the very element which for the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus stood as a symbol for the unstoppable mill of time, changing everything in its wake, serves precisely as the functional device through which he achieves the mesmerizing painterly effect of his photographs.
In his new body of work Alexander James is often found in direct dialogue with the painters that have inspired him as he participates in the age-old practice of contextualizing antiquities stories. In ‘A beautiful announcement of death’ photography emerges as a perplexing aporia, a kind of sorcery which successfully presences the past and yet only brings up ghosts.
A beautiful announcement of death – opens 11th May to June 15th
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