Six Contemporary Photographers on Paper as a Source of Inspiration

Partition 31, 2015, Christiane Feser. Pigment print, cut, folded, and layered, 55 1/4 × 39 1/2 in. Collection of Trish and Jan de Bont. © Christiane Feser

Why these six artists fold, cut, layer and shape paper in different ways as part of their photographic practice.

By Laura Hubber / 05.22.2018
Content Producer, Interpretive Media Department
J. Paul Getty Museum

Within a world of digital photography, the artists in the exhibition Cut! Paper Play in Contemporary Photography have turned to paper as a source of inspiration. All appreciate the physicality of paper, and each brings his or her own sense of wonder, precision, and playfulness to its transformation into something more complex.

In these brief slices of conversation, excerpted from interviews I conducted for the audio tour that accompanies the exhibition, they share what they love about working with paper.

Christiane Feser

Christiane Feser makes photographs of paper she has folded. Then she makes photographs of those photographs, and so on, until it becomes impossible to distinguish the photograph from the photographed.

Christiane Feser: I got more interested in the piece of paper you can touch because digital images don’t alter or age with time. They cannot be torn, they cannot be bent, they cannot be cut, so they are kind of a distant. I’m more interested now in dealing with the materiality and really touching this thing. There’s a German word, begreifen. This word means understand, but to touch something means to understand it.

Laura Hubber: How do you want your photographs to be received by the viewer?

Christiane Feser: When I was still shooting flat, normal photographs, I was always kind of disappointed when I saw how fast people were looking at these works. They look at them and after a few seconds they decide, “Okay, it’s a house, it’s a street,” next picture.

But if you really look closely at something, you get lost in the picture. It is important that people are a little bit like detectives, trying to find out, “What is the thing? What is the representation?” and this is very satisfying for me to see. But I am most happy if they can’t find out in the end all the secrets that are in this.

Matt Lipps

Models, 2016, from the series Looking Through Pictures, Matt Lipps. Pigment print, 72 × 54 in. Promised Gift of Sharyn and Bruce Charnas to the J. Paul Getty Museum. © Matt Lipps

Matt Lipps began cutting out photographs from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and pasting them onto cardboard when he was in high school.

Matt Lipps: That I’m still here twenty years later making paper doll cutouts is a crazy, fortunate thing.

Laura Hubber: Why do you love paper?

Matt Lipps: It doesn’t go away. You can always keep it and hold on to it. Digital pictures get deleted and they are just gone. They go back into the World Wide Web, wherever they go. There is something about that piece of paper that you can rely on, that will be with you, that you need to take care of. Especially if you think about an actual photograph, which has a surface that will expand and contract with heat and moisture, and needs to be protected from light. You need to care for it, like a body almost. The nurturing of that sort of appeals to me.

Paper also crumbles, is torn. I like the wear and tear and wrinkles that happen at the corners of the cutouts when they fall over and get bent. I appreciate the history that is embedded in that object. I’m left cold with a digital image.

Thomas Demand

Thomas Demand is a sculptor who makes large models of cardboard and paper and then photographs them. After he takes the photograph, he discards the model itself.

Thomas Demand: I decided at some point that I wanted to be able to make sculpture[s], but not live with them. A cheap material, which wouldn’t bind me financially and space-wise, is paper and cardboard, which is also quite good because everybody knows it very well. The cup of coffee, the dollar note, maybe the newspaper. People have a feeling for paper.

The artificiality of the paper is important to me. It’s a different way to render the world, and it’s nearly as good as the real one. This “nearly as good,” this little gap between what you see there looks a little bit artificial, but is obviously a plant, makes you hopefully think about what we see, and how we see, and how we recognize, and how we communicate about what we recognize.

Soo Kim

Midnight Reykjavík #5, negatives 2005; prints 2007, Soo Kim. Chromogenic print, 39 3/8 × 39 3/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009.36. © Soo Kim

Soo Kim’s photographs are an exercise of subtraction. She layers two photographs she has made, and takes away volume with a knife to create a more subjective portrait of what she has photographed.

Soo Kim: When I make a piece like the Reykjavik series, it’s showing me a picture of Reykjavik, but I’m subtracting parts of the picture plane away in order to make a depiction of Reykjavik that I’m interested in seeing.

They look less like buildings, less like houses, less like architecture, and more like sketches or an idea of a house, or an idea of a built environment, an idea of a city, rather than what you might picture as Reykjavik or a capital city of the world.

My practice comes from collage; it’s just a subtractive method rather than an additive method. It’s something that the viewer doesn’t see, but in a way, is just as meaningful and important to the photograph itself as what remains intact.

I am interested in the objecthood of photography. There is a certain kind of materiality, a certain kind of objecthood that is in the work. It comes from the paper itself.

Daniel Gordon

Clementines, 2011, Daniel Gordon. Chromogenic print, 29 3/4 × 37 1/2 in. Collection of Allison Bryant Crowell. Image courtesy Daniel Gordon and M+B Gallery, Los Angeles. © Daniel Gordon

Artist Daniel Gordon makes still lifes from photographs he’s printed on his inkjet printer and crumpled into balls and other shapes.

Daniel Gordon: I was interested in making a hybrid digital/analog image based on a traditional still life. The clementines are made of crumpled up pieces of paper with photographs of clementines glued on top of balls. The materials that I’m using to make these photographs are glue, paper and scissors.

I’m interested in inkjet printing, and the mistakes a printer could make when one color is jammed, and I get streaky lines, or there’s an ink splotch, or certain technical issues come up. I try to embrace those imperfections as a way to signal the tools that I’m using.

My training is as a photographer, but there’s a sculptural element, a collage element, a photographic element, and then more and more a painterly element that has come into my photographs.

Christopher Russell

Explosion #31, 2014, Christopher Russell. Pigment print and Plexiglas, 39 × 57 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Gift of The Mark & Hilarie Moore Collection in memory of the Orlando shooting victims of 6/12/2016, 2016.84. © Christopher Russell

Christopher Russell often cuts into his photographs. Sometimes, he uses a meat cleaver to hack at an image; in Explosion, he uses a razor blade to delicately carve into the surface of the photographic paper.

Christopher Russell: I think beauty is a lure. I’m interested in subversion and if you can sort of infiltrate, find a way into somebody’s space, then they’re more likely to understand what you have to say. So, I think beauty is sort of the hook that gets people in to think more about other issues in the work.

Laura Hubber: What’s your relationship between paper and the photographic process?

Christopher Russell: I mean, if we’re doing it SAT style, “Paper is to photo what spirituality is to daily life.” I mean, you’re releasing this bright white from within. It’s like ghost pictures of the visions of Mary with the glowing heart. That’s kind of what paper is to me.

Originally published by The Iris under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.