April 2nd, 2019
Holly Parotti’s iPhoneography
In the book “On Photography”, Susan Sontag explores the obsession of image making and all of its cultural, societal and personal advantages and complications.
“Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photograph is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image junkies,” she writes in the early 1970s. “Ultimately, to have an experience becomes identical to taking a photograph of it, and participating in a public event becomes more and more equivalent to looking at it in photographed form.”
This is chillingly prophetic of today’s society, where the digital camera has changed image making and Facebook satisfies us “image-junkies” with newsfeeds filled with nonsensical and everyday images as banal as what your friend had for lunch. A camera is even a standard requirement for cell phones.
Is this terrible? Is the iPhone a tool of distraction and vanity? Or can it be used as an artistic tool, becoming an authentic and accessible type of photography?
Holly Parotti’s “This is Not a Fairytale”, which opens this Thursday, June 16, at Popop Studios, explores this new form of media, opening our eyes and minds not only to the poignancy of their subject matter, but the technological process behind their capture, which all happens with one tool: the iPhone.
“I think all of the phenomenon revolving around how we have become so engrossed in the digital personalities that we’ve developed within ourselves, this is how I got into recognizing the influence that you have with these devices,” Parotti says. “You can be tracked by satellite wherever you are. Nothing’s a secret anymore. And I realized how good of a camera it was, the quality of images it took, and I researched the iPhone and what’s out there with all the applications.”
iPhoneography — the art of taking pictures with an iPhone rather than with film or a high quality digital camera — has gained a sizable following since the phone’s launch. With a variety of filters and settings available for purchase from Apple, including applications that make the digital print appear “vintage” or worn, the iPhone has transformed the photography industry. We thought digital cameras made photography the most accessible and easy it could be — but Apple proved us wrong once again.
For many users, the appeal stems from taking perfect aim-and-shoot images without the messiness of film loading and self-development, the knowledge of aperture or F-Stops, the changing of physical lenses or cameras themselves and the challenges of Photoshop.
“Photography is not only an art form but a science. I know that because I signed up for photography in school and I withdrew the first day because they started talking about the F-stops and the chemistry and I knew it was something I could mess up in a heartbeat,” Parotti says. “I’ve always had a camera and I’ve noticed my images throughout the years have always been abstract or personal; it’s just that now industry has tailor-made it so that it is available to any and every one. The difference is the person who is pressing the button.”
Indeed, iPhoneography — like all new developments that modernize our way of thinking and interacting with the world — has already been branded as “cheating” or not an “authentic” art form. After all, it commodifies photography as an art even further — want a Polaroid? There’s an app for that. Want a grainy, high-contrast black and white image? There’s an app for that. Want a panorama? There’s an app for that, too. While many formally trained photographers ignore the development in their field, viewers of such images may say with disdain — as many abstract artists may have heard before when they introduced their pieces that are radically different from realist works — “I could do that.”
But that argument, as Parotti points out, overlooks the individuality of the person behind the lens.
“Well it’s the choice to do it. When someone says, ‘I can do that’, my reaction to them is, ‘Go right ahead, please. I welcome the moment to see your product, or how you translate this image into another two-dimensional format’,” she says. “You put ten artists in a room drawing the same model, you’re going to have ten completely different images. The only thing tying them together is any distinguishing mark on the model itself. It’s about the individuality of the persons behind the device.”
One could also argue that the accessibility that iPhone and its apps provide, while producing a lot of rubbish, makes for great artistic gems in the right hands. For Parotti, the device has allowed her to explore a new medium for her artistic practice that had previously been inaccessible to her. Formally trained as a printmaker, those who know her work have seen her transition slowly into digital media, producing such movies as “90%” (featured in The Hub’s show for Transforming Spaces 2010) and “Breathe” (featured in Popop’s show for Transforming Spaces 2011).
“I’m very uncomfortable with the appropriate traditional terms like film, photograph, etc. I’m not trained in any of those things,” Parotti — who also admits she’s ‘”a bit of a gadget person” — says. “But I had this idea or challenge for myself to take a more compelling approach to my work because I had been working in two-dimensional all of my career though university. I challenged myself not to see if I could do it, because I knew I could do it, but I wanted to see what the outcome would be.”
“This is not a Fairytale” presents a compelling selection of that outcome. These digital images (as Parotti emphasizes they are not photographs) provide windows into the more overlooked blink-and-you’ll-miss them moments. One may recognize those moments that pass you by as you wish you had a camera, yet even if you did, you may not capture it the way you visualize or remember it because of your lack of photography knowledge or equipment — but Parotti is able to.
“The images are accessible, it’s everything that everyone sees, it’s nothing that I have staged, it’s just walking along and this particular grouping of safety cones are sitting there and they look so very odd next to each other, and that to me was interesting,” she explains.
Language is also very much part of this body of work as well, for a show to be named “This is Not a Fairytale” itself requires a story. Yet each digital image itself is a story, their titles opening up worlds within each window. Each shot is something the viewer recognizes, for they have already glimpsed and forgotten those fleeting yet vastly emotional moments found in everyday objects that sit quietly in wait for someone to hold their gaze. Parotti does this beautifully, plucking them directly from our everyday and finding their narrative, giving them humanity.
“Language is definitely important in my work. It’s not what you say, but how you say it that is most intriguing to me,” she says. “You can have a title that has absolutely everything to do with an image, but based on the way the words are arranged, it can have absolutely nothing to do with the image too. It’s a part of the process for me. It’s also about communication, and what can get lost in communication if not used correctly.”
The result is a collection of overwhelming poignancy, each petit frame reminding us of the stories of objects we live and interact with daily, yet often take for granted. They hold not only our stories, but also the stories of the objects themselves — what are the fallen petals of bougainvillea whispering to the severed blades of grass? Does the older, dilapidated traffic cone feel jealousy next to its new, shiny counterpart? What unspeakable act has the unused chair in the corner seen? We can only begin to imagine as we string together the narrative of the show that holds — just like our modern day perception of fairytales — through the gauze of its dreamy surface, hardened edges.
Though the results are compelling, overall, Parotti points out, the process holds the most importance to her.
“I’m not going to sit here and say oh you know, this is something that I sat down and had this grand scheme to create a whole bunch of photographs,” she explains. “No, this was all about me purchasing this iPhone, learning what it could do, having opportunities to take images of things that are compelling to me and then presenting them in a conceptual field with other photographs.”
After all, how ironic is it that these digital images from a device that was invented to make it easier for users to specifically snap and upload their images to the computer without bothering with tangibility are actually printed out and framed professionally for a formal gallery setting? And how ironic is it that this tool, the iPhone, a device blamed for distraction in modern society, is in this instance being used for meditation?
In the end, these two states are two sides of the same shared coin. Within distraction, this litany of image making, can be found a meditation, a promise to look thoughtfully within through outward gazing and consciousness. As they pass from image to image in this exhibition, viewers will enter that hypnotic space as well, and perhaps become so lost that they forget about authenticity in image making devices, preferring instead that clear open-mindedness of possibility.
“This is Not a Fairytale” opens Thursday June 16 at 6:30 at Popop Studios and will be on display until June 24th.
Sonia Farmer, The Nassau Guardian