Two events at the threshold of the new millennium explain this body of work; the advent of digital photography and the release of the Wachowksis’ film The Matrix.
The advent of digital photography created a hiatus in my artwork. I made the transition to digital in the year 2001, feeling that the darkroom montage techniques that had taken me twenty years to develop had been rendered instantly obsolete by the computer process. I found the digital photograph, though infinitely malleable and highly adaptable, to be dry and disconnected, like grains of sand on the beach, lacking the cohesion and materiality of silver emulsion. It took me a while before realizing that what I was experiencing was a paradigm change, and that photography was only following this change. I began to feel the real transition I needed to make was from the 20th century to the 3rd millennium.
The Wachowskis’ film is a contemporary setting for Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. It is also an ingenious model of Berkeleyan Idealism, a philosophy of the nature of existence which excludes the question of the materiality of the universe. Photographic literature’s long-standing relationship with Plato’s Cave is not hard to understand. The photograph is a metaphor of experience. It is almost impossible to make a photograph without in some way evoking questions of perceiving reality.
Photography has played an important role in the evolution of consciousness. The invention and pursuit of the photographic image was responsible for fundamental changes to perceptual reality, changes which are necessary to move us towards an eventual understanding of objective reality, should such a thing exist. Perhaps digital technology emerged as the human imagination prepares to take another step forward. The bitmapped image could bring us closer to dispelling the notion of a single immutable reality, but that does not preclude the fact that more and more of us are sitting on the floor of the den, chained at the neck.
Plato allows us to see the elevated roadway and the fire. He ushers us to the fire and shows us the low wall and the men who carry the articles done in stone and wood used to cast the shadows on the cave wall. Although spiritualists can be seen to have made it all of the way out of the cave, most of us remain here at the low wall precisely where Descartes begins his work in the mid17th century on crafting lenses and casting shadows.
In Descartes' fifth discourse La Dioptrique, he methodically removes the eye of an ox and seals it in a wooden shutter covering a window. The experiment proves that a lifeless eye can meticulously render nature. Evidently the living, thinking, dreaming mind is not required to transcribe the world, and therefore the world as we perceive it is completely distinct from the world as we might one day come to understand it. What we perceive is not the visual radiation of truth. The projector that generates the illusion of nature is therefore inside our heads, an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, or a jack plug to a portal in the back of the head.
The disembodied, lifeless eye provided me with a strong metaphor for the disjuncture between the world and our perception of it, as well as of communication technologies, simulated experiences and other ever metamorphosing contemporary realities.