The Secret World of Objects and Owen Kydd’s Durational Photographs

[posted by Alice]

When I was a child I would sometimes lie in bed and watch the subtle shadows and flickers of color that were projected on the walls of my room by cars passing our house in the night. This intrusion into my life by unknown travelers gave me both a thrill of angst and a puzzled feeling about how these tricks of light occurred.

I felt some of those old reactions again recently when I saw Owen Kydd’s work in an exhibit called “The Pure Products of America Go Crazy” at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. Though other photographers’ work is represented in this show (which takes its title from a William Carlos Williams poem and purports to be “a running dialogue between photographic images—past and present—that take as their subject the accumulated byproducts of an American way of life”) none of them caught my attention like Kydd’s work did. And this was not so much because he deals with particularly American “byproducts” but because he engages with inanimate objects in such intriguing ways.

According to the signage at the exhibit, Kydd describes his process as “durational photography,” in which a digital camera in video mode is fixed on an object, scene, or a small tableau for a short period of time, recording subtle motion, reflections, or changes in light. The digital video images are then played on a continuous loop on a high definition LED monitor, the kind used for commercial signs. Sometimes the viewer has to look rather carefully at the monitor to see what’s happening in the piece. In “Mirror Palm (2014)” images from the street are reflected in the blue-violet surface of a kitschy abstracted palm shape that seems to be part of a window display. In “Knife (J.G.) (2011)” a piece of cutlery showcases small reflections that glide back and forth on its somewhat battered blade against a bokeh background that seems to include wine glasses. In “Composition Warner Studio (on green) (2012)” a tattered black plastic bag twists and writhes in the wind like a monotone sea anemone. In “Windows #5” circles of colored light move up and down like rising and setting suns on what seems to be a glass surface. And “Pico Boulevard (Nocturne) (2012)” presents a number of small tableaus that may have moving light or sliding reflections or both, including one in which hazy images of passing cars and buses are seen through a somewhat tattered venetian blind. (Versions of these pieces can be seen at The Nicelle Beauchene Gallery site, but the size and clarity of the images really does affect their impact.)

So what seems irreal about Kydd’s art? Though I read an interview in Aperture in which Kydd speaks about the ways in which his work explores the differences between cinema and photography, to me the most surprising thing about these durational photos is that they evoke the seemingly secret world of objects. These objects move. They glow. They are played upon by light and go through many subtle changes. Kydd shows us objects that seem somehow animated without biological life (or mechanical impetus), and this in turn gives a glimpse into the uncomfortable reality of being in-itself, the existence of objects that, unlike us, have no conscious motivations and, unlike us, cannot be said to live or die. But like us they do exist, and this is the deep foundation of existential unease. Kydd helps us feel this, and his work is worthwhile for that reason — as well as because of the way his durational photographs contribute to “the possibility of undoing the time signature of the photograph.”

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