Interviewed by Dylan Marriott
Guy Grabowsky is a visual artist working in the medium of photography. He creates images with and without the camera, mostly using analogue methods as well as a mix of conventional and unconventional processes to create his dreamlike compositions. Grabowsky’s work is generally of quite a large scale, often embedded with layers of intricate hidden messages, textures and forms. Guy’s work exists on the fringe of perception – A vague recollection of a dream.
Guy Grabowsky [@symbiont_g] has joined #CO
How did you get started working with photography?
I got into it through some friends while in high school, who were doing I guess what you would call street style photography; going into the city and taking pictures of buildings and people going about their daily life. I started studying at the VCA (Victorian College of the Arts), and prior to that I hadn’t really delved into the whole analogue film side of the medium. So the first year of university at the VCA, you get inducted into different areas, one of which was an analogue dark room. Things just started from there, the thing that intrigued me particularly was being able to print my own work, being in control of that process was something that I found quite liberating.
The idea of printing images of a large scale was something which really enticed me – I was really attracted to how large scale holds space. I then basically spent four years experimenting in the darkroom day in day out. Through that, developing my own ways of making images by layering texture is what led me to what I’m doing now. My practice is very process driven, and making images in the darkroom changed the way I thought about photography – when you’re in that environment, you’re really tapping into the essence of what photography is, which is light transferring through surfaces.
It’s a whole kind of conversation between light, surface and tactility.
When you arrived at the point of working without the camera in certain cases, how did this action of disregarding the "metal box" of the camera affect your work and how you thought about photography. What does the physicality of a camera mean to the work?
I was looking at a few artists who I had discovered through my studies, who really, I guess impacted me. One of which was the Dusseldorf school of photography, that kind of lineage of artists. I had this desire of making images that didn’t represent the world that surrounds us, but more so were depicting themselves, completely divorced from reality – delving into the subconscious.
My practice is broken down into three questions:
I think to negotiate photography is to negotiate what it is to be human. Part of that is, I guess, changing the way people view photography and how people view images, and part of this is done by creating the images in ways that people wouldn’t necessarily associate with photography.
It's a very interesting concept to ponder; what is photography's relationship to reality? Photography is so subjective and there is this expectation that the image must be true.
Do you think photography has an obligation to depict reality? And how does your work question reality as it's depicted on the surface?
I guess nowadays, we largely understand reality through images. And through this, images, to me anyway, have become sort of mundane and ubiquitous. Almost as if we are desensitised to them in some ways. So that question of reality and photography is somewhat blurred. We experience much of reality through photography, whether that’s via social media, or in propaganda, politics, etc. So that idea of truth, for me, is quite blurred. I’m not sure if photography depicts the truth the same way as it once did. It becomes more complex when we think about digital technology and photography’s relationship to technology.
When I’m making photos, I seek out moments, which I can capture on film. Instead of viewing these images as images, I see them more as found objects, which I can then manipulate into something completely different, no longer associated with their original context. They’re become something else. For example, my work “The Image” which depicts a plane seemingly hurtling towards the surface – is in reality just rotated. Through this intervention it’s divorced from its original intent, and is communicating something entirely different. What you’re seeing is a false truth.
What do you think the importance of the analogue process is to your work? And how do you incorporate digital as well within that?
It comes back to that physicality. There’s definitely a physicality when it comes to using analogue processes, which then I think presents itself in the work. Digital and analogue are both ways of making the same thing, which is images. I think there’s something I guess, for me, which is more visceral when it comes to analogue.
I also use digital processes, my phone for example is probably the camera I use most, I’m constantly taking images on my phone. Combining digital and analogue processes is something which is really quite fascinating because you get interesting results, but also, you’re materialising the image through converting it from a digital entity to a physical entity. I think that in itself is quite an interesting conversation. I guess that’s a good example of how process links conceptually into my work as well.
I think a marriage between them both is a great way to look at it, especially as we live in a world that is increasingly digital. It'll be a sad day when we can't shoot with analogue mediums anymore.
What are your thoughts on the way most art is viewed these days, through instagram and the internet on small, low resolution screens - How does this influence the notion of scale within your practice?
The screen digital image is an exchange of tactility for immediacy. So I guess for me, I’m always thinking about tactility – I’m always thinking about surface. And of course, there’s no surface when you’re looking at a screen.
I’m always interested in texture, layering, creating something which is visually visceral. Particularly when you’re looking at art online, which is how we mostly view art really, I feel it’s important to make work which is impactful; large scale, I think lends itself to that.
Coming back to tactility, food has always been an influence in making art for me. Before I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to be a chef. So thinking about images as this thing which we’re serving to people – creating an experience for someone. I guess making something which is almost luxurious. I think that’s interesting in terms of photography, which is a medium that is so embedded in consumerism and pop culture. I think there’s a funny irony within photography, in the sense that what you’re looking at is essentially paper with ink. So the idea of surface and tactility is a contradiction since there’s no tactility – I’m making these textural works with no texture.
It's such a fragile reality that photography exists within. I think your work perfectly encapsulates this notion of how fragile the story of an image can be, how easily this reality can be ruptured by something as simple as rotating the frame.
Photography is embedded within contradictions and paradoxes.