Talia Chetrit: Means to an End

The photographic studio, in its most fundamental sense, is a space that exists to both create and perpetuate illusion. Likewise, the darkroom, once the main site of photographic production, can be thought of as completing this process that reduces the visible world to a seamless transparency. But with the adoption of digital media, the studio and the darkroom have also become, for an entire generation of artists, points at which the wholesale reconsideration of photography as a conceptual entity can take place. They are fault lines in its history and practice, spaces for an imaginative, even wilful, undermining of those values that have long been thought of as key to the various illusions of photography itself. Talia Chetrit must be considered exemplary in this regard, harnessing as she does the fragmented roles of photography in disparate, often amusing, but always challenging ways. It is precisely her engagement with these polar (if inseparable) conceptions of the photographic process that animates her work.

This initially playful disordering of our familiar expectations seems to pose (and even, to answer) some very interesting questions about how we “read” photography, as a set of objects and perhaps more importantly as the complex by-product of certain ideas about representation. Crucial to Chetrit’s practice is an unconstrained sense of experimentation where the established tools of photography are put to new ends, and without an exact destination in mind; this opportunity to deconstruct the medium into its most basic components is made possible by the radical break that occurred within its recent history. A sense of the fortunate accident pervades her work, but it is one that can only happen in “laboratory” conditions. Chetrit’s interest in abstract imagery finds a connection between modernism in painting and the tropes of scientific illustration, as both seek to flatten experience into a set of coordinates, but again the employment of these techniques constitute a further experiment in her use of photography-as-process, the aim of which is an interrogation of its means and its shifting limitations.

The pristine surfaces of commercial photography become, in Chetrit’s work, weirdly over-emphasised and almost aggressive in tone. Frequently using a hand to either hold some object or direct our attention seems inevitably like a pun on the gesture that is at the heart of photography as a medium, to say nothing of our complicity in its deceptions. Her approach is to create a virtual inventory of styles, from elaborately constructed still-life to pure abstraction. In doing so she gathers together a whole network of references, which are then pulled and twisted in often contradictory directions to reveal how the photograph itself is “conditioned” by these supposedly neutral modes of expression. Chetrit’s understanding of the historical tropes that define both the studio and the darkroom take these pictures beyond mere formal studies; rather she is investigating the elemental terms of that “frame” we put around the world and how its histories, diverse as they are, have come to shape the ways in which we think about (and use) the photographic image.