Vanishing Point

In my Vanishing Point series, I use traditional black and white photographic processes to challenge the representational authority of the photographic image. I began this body of work in 2010 when I accidently exposed a print of shadows on an adobe wall with the enlarger grossly out of focus. This print triggered a question - How might I make a lens-based photograph non-representational?

Critical writing on photography falls heavily on the side of the photograph’s indexicality. However, I believe it is possible to defocus radically enough to reach a point at which objects disappear as physical manifestations and simply become volumes on a flat surface. This flattening emphasizes spatial ambiguities and expands the image’s interpretations beyond the specifics of what is in front of the camera.

While there may be different paths to a lens-based non-representational photographic image, for me, defocusing represents the most compelling choice. Studying the work of two photographers questioning focus in their practice helped refine my concept. By defocusing his images in the darkroom, Robert Stivers affects both the image and the film grain. Hiroshi Sugimoto used fine grained large format film specifically “so that the medium would not come into view as an independent layer.”

Philosophically and aesthetically I want the grain of the film to validate the process, to let the viewer know that my use of film intends a layer of meaning within the image. Having the prints reveal sharp film grain reinforces that while I am challenging one of its tenets, my practice remains grounded in the medium. Here I have chosen to highlight three basic aspects of the photographic process; the negative, film grain and the photographic print.

Simply defocusing the lens could not yield the results I was looking for so the technical question became how to render images so defocused as to be non-representational at the moment of exposure? Ultimately the solution lay in a combination of close-up and neutral-density filters to achieve the desired effect.
The geometric forms can rightly be seen as an art historical reference to the geometric abstractions of; Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, and the Russian/German avant garde. They are also a result of the process; strong, bold, graphic forms hold together when radically defocused, small detailed objects blur into nothingness.
Philip V Augustin, 2015