Photography 2.0: an essay by Jackie Brethen Leishman
on the occasion of Pixelism, an exhibition of works by Brett Sykes at the Thanksgiving Point Art Institute
Photography is often overlooked in the discussion of fine art. Only recently have some photographs demanded the high prices/notoriety the other art forms have enjoyed for so long. Some would argue that photography is not at the same level of painting or sculpture because everyone can take a picture; cameras are so accessible. I would argue so is painting, drawing, and sculpture. Anyone can place paint on a canvas, a pen on paper, mold clay into an object, but is it good? Does it speak a visual language, does it convey a thought, feeling or emotion using the materials at hand? Most often it does not. Photography is no different. Almost anyone can take an image, but how many people actually make an image? There is a subtle difference in the wording but a large chasm between them when it comes to comparing a work of art from a snapshot.
In thinking about Brett Sykes’ Pixelism, the mode of using a camera phone as his artistic medium is too banal. It is too accessible to set apart his work, especially since we live in a world oversaturated with imagery. Almost everyone I meet considers him/ herself some version of a photographer. Then I find out Sykes’ images are film stills taken from the television. He has considered consumption, pop culture and technology and I am intrigued. Then I see his images and they are beautiful. It is in the looking, or rather the seeing of his work when I realize he is using this everyday technology and elevating the product of this technology to fine
art and it is fantastic.
His work combines conceptual and formal qualities in a way that is rare to find today among working artists. Pixelism speaks a visual language and it is complete. The compositions made from individual squares of color (the pixels), are not random. We are not looking at snapshots blown up large. These are images carefully crafted and chosen for both their narrative and formal qualities. The images invite questioning. They are asking questions of the viewer and the viewer asks back. They are to be experienced physically as well as intellectually. The pure size makes an impact, but it is the perfect combination of color, form and concept that keeps us looking.
When viewed from a certain distance the images become the total of our viewing plane and we are invited deeper into the piece. The size is appropriate. It is not big because big is popular right now. Today’s technology is such that even with a camera phone, an image needs to be super-sized for the pixels to be as apparent as they are in Sykes’ work. His questioning and revealing inspires us the viewers to question what we see and approach our technology
in different ways.
When technology changes so rapidly, we are left wondering can any of it be celebrated? In Sykes’ work I am left feeling like we can. Digital technology does not and should not be separated from the fine arts. It is another medium with its own constraints and properties that is of tremendous import. In this cacophony of voices, images, mediums, and technologies, his rises above the others. He is not telling us what we already know, but has already explored the next step and is telling us it is wonderful.
Pixelism continues at the Thanksgiving Point Art Institute through June 3.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Categories: Personal Essay