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2006 09 27
Angle of Incident #22: Screens

By Gary Michael Dault
There are a number of projects I turn to when I’m tired of writing. My suite of Orchid-Water photographs is one of them. This is an ongoing collection of digital photos of the bucket of water on our deck that my partner uses to collect rainwater for her orchids. The photos are about how, regardless of what falls into the bucket—leaves, maple keys, and so on—it inevitably (and I think, generously, graciously, mysteriously) arranges itself into a most satisfying tondo-like composition. I wrote an Angle if Incident column about this expressive bucket some time ago.

My second project—and this one requires even less physical effort on my part than the Orchid Water project does (for which I actually have to go downstairs)—is called Screens.

Screens consists of an equally lengthy series of digital photographs which I take of the view out the window of my study.
The window is just to my left, beside my computer. It looks out onto the backyard and across the backyards of my neighbours.

Actually it’s not so much a matter of taking photos of the view out the window as it is of taking photos of the window itself, and particularly of the screen that covers it.

What interests me is the degree to which this banal screen generates a myriad of images which suggest and incorporate certain formal and procedural concerns that turn up in the history of art during the last century. Depending on how I focus the camera, for example, I get either a view or a grid. Or a view diced and pixilated by a grid. If I focus on the backyard, the grid that falls, membrane-like, between the backyard and the camera becomes a hazy, textured veil. If I focus on the screen itself, I get a sharp, gridded field, washed with a distant landscape.

You’d think the compositional possibilities of this camera-screen-backyard arrangement might be rather dispiritingly limited—but no. If I crank the window out a bit—as I have done in the photo here—a get bountiful choice if angles: hundreds of different carvings into space of screen and yard (all at varying scales of grid), plus—as in the photo here—the added compositional perk of the window sill running across the bottom of the image—sometimes with (as in this photo) a poignant but accidental arrangement of dried leaves that had intended to fall to the ground and were interfered with by my window ledge. Because of the distance of my camera from the window, and the light and my mood and who knows what else, this particular screen-image happens to have a certain soft, impressionist feeling about it: nothing but a happy accident.

Sometimes when I hold the camera close to the screen, I get a tough, high-focus, sinewy grid—a strict cellular structure like a mathematical field that then holds—as a scrim of background—little honey-like pouches of colour: residual pastoral pockets provided by the garden beyond.

Sometimes I get a gratuitous mechanical pointillism. Sometimes I get a meaningless shimmer. If I use a flash, I get a penitentiary-grey plane of metal mesh. If it rains, I get a Chinese watercolour of a distant wilderness. If I shoot in the dark, I get a blackened scrim which might, for all I know, open onto Oz or Narnia or into the inside of my brain or into the Piranesi recesses of my heart.

Anyhow, it’s what I do when I’m tired of writing.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 09/27 at 12:38 PM

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