Story of Knowledges

This series of constructed photographs is a meditation on knowledge, the power of its study and pursuit, and the strength and determination involved in the ways of learning. Instead of a body that functions in opposition to the mind, here the body acts in alignment with notions of thought or mindful purpose. People pay attention to the details of the world around them, even while this world of experience is limited to a small interior, a backyard, or the backdrop of a sand dune. Their perception is often guided by the senses of sight and touch, emphasizing the corporeal nature of knowledge. However, reality is not automatic or clear-cut. Rather, it is in question; and each character attempts to have an experience that will engender meaning.

My storytelling is staged, often with figures and objects set into spaces where they never existed. The places, people, and objects in the photographs were chosen for their symbolic potential as well as for their aesthetic resonance. The final, digitally constructed photographs offer an opportunity for empirical investigation, as it is the viewer’s experiences that shape the final interpretation of each.

The wide, horizontal framing of these images is intentionally filmic, and this proportional reference adds to the feeling that the narrative continues. However, in photography, the camera isolates one moment—embarking on storytelling while disrupting narrative— permanently leaving us in suspense. Like finding a page torn from a book, beginnings and endings go undocumented; and without a basis or outcome, the logic of the action remains unclear, complex, and shifting.

Throughout human history, light has been a symbol of knowledge in artistic production. In these images, people personify concepts such as knowledge, wonder, thought, learning, ways of understanding information; and, as such, the works become contemporary allegorical photographs. People turn toward the light, carry light sources, or are offered various light sources that beckon them. The tableaus include nighttime interiors and backyards where the light is breaching the darkness, and daytime gardens and glades where light is rarefied and fulfilling. Sometimes the photograph intentionally does not adhere to the laws of nature, and instead, suggests light that purposefully transcends them.

In addition to light being symbolically associated with knowledge, it is also intrinsically associated with the medium of photography. And like knowledge—which is not static as it is continually updated, and then yesterday’s knowledge is outdated and shown to be either incomplete or fully wrong—light is difficult to pin down. Nearly immaterial, but suddenly and magically recordable since the mid-nineteenth century, light defies scientific categories by being both and neither, wave nor particle. Likewise, photography is infamous for its many binary indiscretions, including its ability to be both and therefore neither, truth nor fiction. In photography’s wave-like rendering of the past into the present, and the present into the past, the fixing of light into silver and dye transfers its paradoxical quality to paper.

The camera itself—a dark chamber with a minimal amount of light entering through the lens—is a metaphor for the human experience. Like its correlation with the eye, the camera’s chamber offers a correlation with the brain, taking in information in sometimes abstract and sometimes concrete bits. In our day-to-day existence of questioning, choosing, understanding, objective measuring, subjective deciding, and divining details with a kind of vigilant awareness, we often suddenly “see the light.” To this extent, the private rooms and darkened interiors that comprise Stories of Knowledges conjure the intimacy of the mind and the limited way we must interpret input through what is fundamentally a self-centered mechanism—ourselves. In Self-Knowledge, two women sit on the carpet in a room undergoing a wallpaper remodeling. The two women may represent the multiple debating voices of an internalized conversation, or they may indicate a singular knowledge formulated at various points in a lifetime.

All of these images contain self-consciously manipulated figures that embody ideas. In Reflection, a man wields a heavy hammer in a glass room that reflects his every action. His bodily strength visually symbolizes the strength of mind required to negotiate his situation. In Phases, another man holds an extraordinarily large book in his arms, open to a page of shadows. With him in this brick-walled room is a boy in sandals, sitting at a library-style desk. On the desk is a model of the earth and the moon, with the ivory moon casting an eclipse. The boy studies this object via an interaction with its shadow. While strength represents knowing and discipline, youth offers readings of potential and becoming. Likewise, the various life-stages of adolescence, middle age, and maturity have their own cultural inscriptions regarding self-awareness, perspective, and wisdom.

Objectivity features a woman holding a medical model of the human eye. She steadfastly gazes up and to the right, while her disembodied third eye looks down and to the left. In spite of the oversized anatomical model, we escape the preoccupied stares. Instead of the distant vision available only to her, we see the horizon of the dune behind her and a handful of people who have climbed to the ridge to see the sunset. It is a wind-swept, harsh, and demanding place, and between the larger-than-life-sized woman and the diminutively scaled people in the distance are countless footsteps in the sand. As a depiction of the mind in contemplation, this scene is intended to suggest the range of feelings and emotions that make up the experience of learning.

Rather than suggesting specific disciplines, such as science or history, Story of Knowledges tells of struggle, longing, and resolution. Here, illumination is mixed and precious, and the figures’ imagination and creativity are key components in these stories of progress, success, and the broader perspective. No particular person is cast to impress us with sheer intellectual force. Instead, their curiosity and determination are what write their stories.