Michael ten Pas

illex welcomes American photographer Michael ten Pas. Michael’s photography explores the intersection of reality and perception, and in doing so, his work possesses an irresistable sense of discovery.

Please enjoy his work and his interview.

From the series “Somehow Familiar”

Your photos display an acute attention to the arrival and shape of light. In the first photo shown above, you have observed the interplay of two planes of light. In the second photo shown above, you have observed the interplay of light on two individuals. In each photo, the arrival of light in a certain place at a certain time captures the viewer’s imagination. With these two photos in mind, please tell us how you approach this interplay between light, place, and time.

The interplay between light and forms is important to me because it’s a physical phenomenon that embodies a conceptual theme I’m attracted to, which is the interplay between oddity and normality. When we think of light, we get an idea of what it’s like. When we think of objects, we get ideas of those too. We can conjure up ideas of what is odd and what is normal, but when those things collide in the real world they become dramatic and we can experience them in new ways. Light falling from the sky and landing on the earth is pretty much the most common, normal thing you could think of or experience. But often times, it’s not until light interrupts our expectations that it grabs our attention and therefore becomes significant to us. Whether it’s a corner of a building or people walking in the woods, having expectations about what something in the world looks like has a way of rendering it invisible. By capturing light and space intersecting in dramatic ways, I want to give form to the unexpected nature of a banal world.

In the photograph of the wolf on the wallpaper and photograph of the hands and eggs, the viewer notices a complex combination of colors, shapes, patterns, and objects. The combinations seem to comment on different levels of reality. In the photograph of the eggs, the viewer see two sets of hands, one more real than the other, and in the photograph of the wolf, the viewer again sees two levels of representation, the floral wallpaper and the image of the superimposed wolf. The photograph itself furthermore serves as a third level of representation. Please provide some remarks on these observations.

So much of what we know about the world around us is conveyed to us through pictures. That’s fine. There’s so much I wouldn’t know about the world if I didn’t see it in print or on a screen. Many pictures I see are actually very pleasing to look at. They can be informative, evocative, or entertaining even without being real. But another aspect of the world conveyed to us through pictures is that those pictures are often bold, graphic, loud, and overwhelming. The photos of the eggs and the wolf are meant to be playful engagements with pictures. They are also meant to reintroduce subtlety into the world of pictures. This is why I approach them as optical illusions. An illusion requires a little reality, a little fantasy, and subtle movement back and forth between the two to get the viewer to suspend disbelief. The suspension of disbelief is important with photography because the technology is so accessible – many viewers will look at a photo and try to think of how it was made more than the content of the image. Making a playful optical illusions out of the images I encounter in the world is a way to highlight, but also enjoy, the absurdity of the picture world around us and make it curious and inviting. Pictures might saturate the world around us, but that picture world can also contain a lot of things to discover. I believe the best way to experience it is to be able to approach it as opposed to being invaded by it.

You have commented previously on your series “Somehow Familiar,” which you have described as the photographic record of the return to your hometown of Atlanta after a number of years away. You encounter and capture previously familiar places that have become unfamiliar during the period of your absence. Please tell us how the photo of the housing behind the roadside fence represents this experience.

Walls and fences are a pretty common visual connection between many of photos in that series. It is the nature of the subject matter. During the suburban development of that area, everything was being obscured and obstructed by walls and fences. The subject matter of that body of work could easily send someone down a depressing road. There is always a sense of loss felt when you encounter something that is not recognizable and no longer matches what you remember. Certainly some of that made its way into the pictures. But from the very beginning, my goal was to convey more than just that feeling with the work. That’s one of the things art is all about. It’s about finding new and complex things and seeing a new perspective.

When I talk about this particular photo I have to get a little anecdotal. I was shooting the pictures for that series with a 4x5 camera which can be very time-consuming to operate. I had packed up all the equipment after taking some uninteresting photo of a strip mall when I was walking back to my car and I saw the sun setting behind that fence. My legs pretty much froze and I had to unpack that heavy camera and set it all up again as fast as I possibly could because the light was fading very fast. It sounds simple and cliché but it was the beauty of the moment that compelled that photograph.

For the last part of this question I have to steal the words of Robert Adams because he says it much better than I can. In the Winter 2009 issue of Aperture Magazine, he was talking about the very grim nature of modern suburban landscape photography. He goes on to say, “Are there scenes in life, right now, for which we might conceivably be thankful? Is there a basis for joy or serenity, even if felt only occasionally? Are there grounds now and then for an un-ironic smile? Every artist and would-be artist should, I think, recognize a responsibility to try, without lying, to answer those questions with a yes.” Those words mean a lot to me, and they are something I try to carry with me when I take photos.

please visit Michael’s website and Flickr for more.

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