In our post-modern world of dead originality we should instead of searching for some perceived authenticity (when such a thing has long since migrated) look for the meaning of action, and about how this can tell us about ourselves.
Jack McCombe’s practice combines photography and abstraction. Whilst he is not the first photographer to do this (William Eccleston being one of the obvious ones), what is interesting is the root in which Jack took, to come to these creations.
Photography is usually viewed as a tool to measure ‘objective’ reality — the photographic image as a means of measuring our own perception of the ‘real’ — as if we need a sort of validation that what we perceive is indeed real.
I want to remove recognition
— Jack McCombe, 2015
We are born as Lacan claimed; with an incomplete sense of self, that we cannot see ourselves as ourselves without the presence of an ‘other’ (someone who is not ourselves). As such we are all in a way powerless to our representation, everybody knows something about ‘you’ which you yourself do not know. In existentialism this is often referred to as 1st person and 3rd person. If ourselves are not complete, then why should our images be?
When I say I want to remove recognition, I mean I enjoy that moment where a photograph makes you question yourself. You know it is a photograph, so it must be real, it is evidential, and we say ‘what is that?’ Not ‘what is that supposed to be?’ Like in a painting. The photograph is trusted.
— Jack McCombe, 2015
The gap between ‘what I really am’ and the symbolic mask that makes the subject into something. The subject is thus castrated from the ‘real’ “I” by projecting something else… I am what I am through signifiers that represent me, signifiers constitute my symbolic order.
— Slavoj Žižek, How to read Lacan
It is here, somewhere in ambiguity, that we can create meaning. In-between the profound and the banal, within the signs and symbols which we imbibe almost ritualistically, our hands scrolling down webpages on mobile phones and laptops. How right Paul Valéry was when in 1928 he predicted:
So we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.
— Paul Valéry, The Conquest of Ubiquity, 1928
It is only when we are presented with abstraction, that the ambiguity of everything becomes most evident.
I don’t believe we can perceive the real. I believe photography is just another means of illusion: of reality.
— Jack McCombe, 2015
It is Jack’s approach to the abstract concept of the ‘real’ which enables him to create. Jack’s work contrary to much of photography operates without fear of ambiguity, but rather an appreciation of it. Whilst I do not share Jack’s certainty that what we perceive is conclusively not real, I do believe it is something that we should actively question, not blindly accept — our senses, smell, taste, touch, sight, hearing and feeling are all to easily deceived — it is certainty or the lack there of, that Jack’s images bring into frame.
Jack’s photographs work with the idea that photography is, in essence, a form of ‘lack’. That the photographs information is not real, until it is observed. Through our own sort of castration (in philosophical / psychoanalytic terms) we complete the circle of viewer and image in our own perception of reality. The anxiety of our own symbolic castration — or lack of power, in the face of the photographic image.
These black and white landscapes, that appear like snow covered mountains disappearing into banks of cloud. Almost on the brink of nothingness. An ominous grey. They are actually the negative that we see presented, as in the negative created in within the camera. As such they are conversely more authentic and also less like their original scene.
Images are hallucinatory, our eyes and brains read them as if they are windows into other worlds, (and times,) when in physical actuality, they are merely the renderings of a two dimensional surface (screens, pages… etc). A black and white image as pointed out by Vilhelm Flusser in Towards a Philosophy of Photography is more honest about their illusory nature as image — because they appear less real than one in colour. Jack’s images however make the unreal appear as if real and the real appear unreal.
You can see more of his work here:
All images courtesy of the Artist.
Text by Sam Wood. Written in conversation with Jack McCombe.