Walter Moser // Eikon Magazine 2013
Fragments and Interfaces
Space, the cut and time are the parameters that prove to be central to the photo collages of British artist Abigail Reynolds. Reynolds’ works are photographs in a larger context, for she takes no photos herself but appropriates photographs of famous monuments printed in books and transforms them.
Reynolds’ recourse to the material of others is based on media-implicit considerations about photography, which are closely associated with the question of representing places and spaces in pictures. For her collages the artist selects representations of well-known places in Great Britain: Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral are architectural forms which are doubtless among the most frequently photographed buildings in the world. Distributed en masse in book-form, the original function of the photos used by Reynolds is to reproduce the monuments clearly and objectively. The photographs act as surrogates, replacing the real objects with their image. That this understanding of the photograph is seriously reductive; the original and its photographic reproduction are never totally congruent; is made clear by Reynolds in the sensual re-signification of the photographs she uses. For example, in her collages she combines several images of the same monument, taken at different times but from an identical point of view. In the collage Westminster Abbey 1937 / 1947, for example, the artist puts two views of the east front of the cathedral together, taken apparently from the same spot in 1935 and in 1947. The spatial context, such as the styles of clothing worn by passers-by, is altered, but the view of the architecture remains the same. By repeating these slightly different views in a collage, Reynolds underlines the great extent to which they have been mediated with the same visual codes in the course of the century.
No less self-reflexive than the matter of traditional points of view is Reynolds’ involvement with the construction of space in the image. It is well known that the photographic image is based on a projection from a central point of view, current since the Renaissance, whose lines come together at a vanishing point. Using an equally analytical and constructive method, Reynolds disrupts this photographic paradigm. Not only does she apply the found photographs onto each other in her collages, but she also creates flaps in the sheets by cutting them, and folding them up. In this way openings are made which both permit one to see the photograph underneath, and fragment both images into an array of separate forms. Only at first sight are these synthesized into a spatially homogeneous unity through their apparently logical arrangement. When looked at more closely, slight changes in perspective become visible from fold to fold. The sum of the individual parts does not result in a logical, unified space but rather is broken up into discrete areas by this inconsistency of scale. This effect is enhanced to the extent that each particular image is continued on the upturned flaps. If the collage is viewed now not from the front but from a point to the side, the motifs are not integrated into the two-dimensional image surface but carried over into a spatial and sculptural structure. Due to this multi-perspectival quality, the viewer can no longer read the photograph with regard to the monument it references; the image shifts between illusion and disillusion.
This conflict with the norms of representation is used by Reynolds to expand the concept of temporality in photography. The photograph is usually seen as a simplified option for reproducing time, based on the idea that the photo fixes a point in time, which is already in the past when it is taken. In this case time is defined as a chronological continuum, from which the photograph extracts one single moment and thus points back into the past. Reynolds’ photographic works, in contrast, make clear a temporality which depends less on a linear sequence than on simultaneity. In dissolving the evoked space in a multi-perspectival way by slicing up the paper, Reynolds combines fragments of space from different temporal origins. These segments are not presented one after the other but coexist and interpenetrate each other in an image which could also be read quite reasonably as a reminiscence of the “crystal image” in Deleuze’s film theory. In this way, Reynolds’ works grant the recipient a way of viewing photography that seems to completely reverse its customary definition: here the gaze into an image can slide along various perspectives through heterogeneous spaces and times.