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Lucas Blalock: Imperfect Grace

Lucas Blalock: Imperfect Grace

Reality is always a partially cloaked thing: the some of sociopolitical structures and strictures, the warp and weft of interpersonal dynamics, and so on. It is created largely through instances of alchemy that evade the realm of the visual, in which photography traffics. Attempts to touch something of the real through photography, to extend the medium beyond its doglike loyalty to the indexical, can nevertheless be made; this is where art comes in.

In the face of the failures of representation, as Bertolt Brecht once claimed, “what we actually need is to ‘construct something,’ something ‘artificial,’ ‘posed.’ “We need, in other words, to create a form of what might be termed “constructed representation” – aligned with Brecht’s theatrical techniques of alienation, which call attention to the workings of the theatrical apparatus in order to provide the audience a space for intellectual analysis of the events onstage. This constructed representation exists in opposition to the smooth, consumable forms of representation associated with the spectacle. It is rough; it produces friction.

Consider, in this context, Lucas Blalock’s use of Photoshop. He’s horrible at it. Or so he’d have you believe: you can follow all his technical steps; they are ham-fisted. But these bald-faced moves stand in direct contradiction to the standard, seamless operations of digital legerdemain that are designed to fade into the background of the collective dream worlds fashioned for us by advertising executives and other promoters of the spurious and the seductive. The mechanisms of the digital are here laid bare, allowing us to see them for what they are: cheap tricks. But to shine light on this reality, which can be seen as a kind of critique, is not to identify what’s at the bottom of the well.

Blalock’s photographs are awkward. They trip themselves up, cross their own wires, scramble their own energies. They are not “well done.” But of course most things aren’t. We live amid a profusion of the jury-rigged and the half-baked, those thoughts and objects that are at best nice tries, tries, but never successes. Like most things pathetic, however, there is also a sweetness about Blalock’s pictures, a certain imperfect grace that exists at cross-purposes with their atmosphere of failure. They recall the writer Donald Barthelem’s memorable remark on accuracy in his fiction. “The confusing signals, the impurity of the signal,” he observed, “gives you verisimilitude. As when you attend a funeral and notice, against your will, that it’s being poorly done.” Above and beyond critique, Blalock’s photographs carve out an idiosyncratic form of photographic realism, on the that moves beyond the merely depictive and into a more direct realm of representation: the embodied.

Chris Wiley in Aperture, Issue 208, Fall 2012

More shadow books


Atomic light (shadow optics) / Akira Mizuta Lippit.

Dreams, x-rays, atomic radiation, and “invisible men” are phenomena that are visual in nature but unseen. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) reveals these hidden interiors of cultural life, the “avisual” as it has emerged in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and Jacques Derrida, Tanizaki Jun’ichirô and Sigmund Freud, and H. G. Wells and Ralph Ellison, and in the early cinema and the postwar Japanese films of Kobayashi Masaki, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Kore-eda Hirokazu, and Kurosawa Kiyoshi, all under the shadow cast by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Akira Mizuta Lippit focuses on historical moments in which such modes of avisuality came into being–the arrival of cinema, which brought imagination to life; psychoanalysis, which exposed the psyche; the discovery of x-rays, which disclosed the inside of the body; and the “catastrophic light” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which instituted an era of atomic discourses. With a taut, poetic style, Lippit produces speculative readings of secret and shadow archives and visual structures or phenomenologies of the inside, charting the materiality of what both can and cannot be seen in the radioactive light of the twentieth century. Akira Mizuta Lippit is professor of cinema, comparative literature, and Japanese culture at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (Minnesota, 2000)

In praise of shadows / Jun’ichirō Tanizaki; translated by Thomas J.Harper and Edward G.Seidensticker


An essay on aesthetics by the Japanese novelist, this book explores architecture, jade, food, and even toilets, combining an acute sense of the use of space in buildings. The book also includes descriptions of laquerware under candlelight and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure