Photographs of Photographs
Photographs meet the eye wherever we look. They supply the core of most advertisements; they illustrate news stories in the print media and the Internet, and we all take snapshots as records of moments in our personal lives. The very ubiquity of photographs has rendered them virtually invisible to many, perhaps most, of their viewers—unless, of course, they take a second look. That is what I set out to do in the summer of 2009 when I began focusing on photographs and photographic reproductions of art in public places. It begins each time with “seeing” a photograph or a photographic reproduction of a work of art in a public place, usually behind glass. I then picture this image in its context by including not only other objects in the display but also some environmental particulars reflected in the glass through which the original picture is viewed.
Thematically, the project is about how photographs and advertising imagery permeate our lives; it is also about how the flattening of space in a photograph can produce an unexpected kind of collage with unexpected content. Reflections and objects behind the reflection are not simultaneously visible to us, but photographs can show us things that we don’t see (because of the way our eyes focus), and we don’t see the flattened space of photography before the image is rendered. To date I have made these pictures in Italy, France, New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. Although regional and international boundaries mean a different emphasis in some of the images present in these locations, one interesting fact that has emerged in this process is that the same photographs appear in many different places, primarily as a function of national and international advertising campaigns.
The series began in 1979 when I was photographing on Long Island, a documentary kind of project, part of an NEA Survey effort sponsored by Apeiron Workshops. As a photographer I had been investigating forms of documentary, and I wanted to photograph something different from what one could see in the newpapers. I decided to do some conceptually based work. Things on the Ground resulted from collecting topographies of various Long Island places. On the 4th of July in 1979 at Jones Beach I spotted a splattered watermelon on the sidewalk, and Things On the Ground was born.
The images selected are a spotty but dense selection from 1979, 2008-2012. They were taken in Rochester, NY, Chicopee, MA, Seattle, WA, and New York City. Most all years since the beginning I have sought out finding things when I look down. I am interested in photography that observes and in people’s un-selfconscious gesture.
About the Artist
Elaine Mayes graduated from Stanford University and attended the California School of Fine Arts. She became the first female to teach creative photography and film in a US university (1968-2001). In 2001 she retired from teaching after seventeen years at NYU, TSOA where she was Chair of Photography and Imaging before retirement. She was a Guggenheim Fellow and received three NEA grants. She is now a full time creative artist with recent solo exhibitions at the Steven Kasher Gallery, Robert Burge Fine Arts, The Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, and The Painters Gallery, Fleischmanns, NY. Additionally she is participating in two major exhibitions in 2013 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York and at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her work was also shown recently at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the MoMA, New York.
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