Lucas Blalock’s current studio is located in a spacious former warehouse building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Neatly organized, Blalock’s space appeared cozy and light-filled, with prints of his new work pinned to the walls, a plastic table in the center, Deardorff 4×5 view camera, stack of older prints laying on another table, a big old printer, computer, and lots of books. I stumbled on a few small metal wheels on the floor, and realized later I was looking at those very wheels on one of the pages in his recent book, Windows Mirrors Tabletops (Morel. 2013). As the artist’s third publication, the book is a delightful compilation of Blalock’s uncanny compositions that gravitate between documentary and staged, cinematographic and drawing-like works. Blalock is highly prolific, constantly making new images and revisiting previous photographs in his relentless search for the form. Exceptionally intelligent and articulate, Blalock left me with more questions than answers after our conversation. The interview below is a continuation of the discussion started at his studio.
Anastasia Samoylova: When did you first become interested in photography? Do you have any childhood memories that could have influenced the aesthetic and concept of your current work?
Lucas Blalock: I started taking pictures in college. I had wanted to be a writer as a teenager. I think a lot about my experience as a kid is in the pictures. I was a fragile kid but was also really active – which often created events – and I spent a lot of time sort of banged up. I don’t think I ever had that sense of immortality that people talk about children having, or subsequently losing – and I think this is in there or under there. In a totally different way (and maybe a better answer to your question), my Mother has a thing for junk shops and antique stores. She was always pointing things out – saying how interesting this odd moment in a building or kick knack was. I remember feeling a deep sleepiness settling down on me in these places but I would wander through the stacks until she was done. I think this probably had a profound influence.
AS: You are known for the playful and abrupt Photoshop interventions in your photographs that confuse the viewer. However, some of your images appear completely un-manipulated, including the black-and-white No Vacancy, 2012. Could you explain your process with such images? If I’m not mistaken, most of these straight images are black-and-white, while the majority of your work is in color – why?
LB: It is not entirely true – though there definitely are a family of b&w unmanipulated pictures – but there are unmanipulated color pictures and manipulated b&w ones etc. I think all I can really say about it is that I am trying to make a picture of something and when its done I want to let it be done and leave it alone. If a picture is done when I see the scan then that is it. Although, I do think what you are getting at about b&w is there. It can lend a certain gravity or evidentiary-ness that color cant in the same way. It feels like a decision that is available in photography and sometimes it really serves what I am thinking about.
AS: Your book Windows Mirrors Tabletops presents photographs in a sequence, but without captions, so the narrative emerges out of the visual clues in the images themselves, which are quite enigmatic. When turning through the pages I felt like I was examining some kind of magician’s manual. Outside of the book it seems that the titles of your photographs allude to important information pertaining to the subject in the piece. How important are words for your work? Is there a dialogue between your visual art and any literary work that you are pursuing or reading? Even in your most abstract images, it appears that somehow a strong narrative is intertwined with the Photoshop layers, and the title could be yet another clue to solving the mystery.
LB: I think about questions a lot more than answers but the relationships you are asking about are all there. As I said, I wanted to be a writer when I was young and I think I still look for ideas in books. I spend a lot of time reading. It’s a kind of background work although it isn’t always easy to see how this activity enters the pictures. I like magician’s manual! I think about the book more as a series of attempts than as a narrative – like trying to learn something or learn how to say something through repetition.
I have been thinking a lot lately about photography as an activity of pointing to or naming. I think that really great pictures might be the ones where the name feels insufficient – that there is something else, something more, to be dealt with.
AS: The objects you photograph are not the objects that would normally become the subjects of a conventional fine art or commercial still life. When you photograph people or places, you also transform those subjects into some form of tableaus. Some elements in your photographs seem to surface repeatedly throughout multiple compositions. Patterns such as gingham, stripes, wood and wood imitation, brick; and objects like hot dogs, sponges, and cables, to name a few, appear to be favored. Are there any particular personal associations with those elements or are you attracted to them purely for their visual potential?
LB: It is both. I love that photography has such fuzzy edges. I am using these things but I am also really paying a lot of attention to them. They end up suggesting their own futures often. Something like fake wood is great because it has a funny relationship to the copying I am doing in photographing – sponges are just these really great blocks of color that also in turn industrial and domestic – and dirty. There are associative connections like this throughout the work but there isn’t a symbology – no metaphoric language – all metonym.
AS: Besides the objects themselves, the space between the photographer and the object depicted in the picture appears to be of high importance in your work. What are the spatial problems that you are aiming to solve in your photographs?
LB: This is a huge question for me right now. I am trying to achieve more complicated pictorial spaces and at the same time thinking about drawing out the qualities of the virtual space behind the surface of the picture – the space of the computer and its possibilities. I think a lot of work right now is thinking digital through very flat layer space (which is proposed by PS and “windows”) and I am curious about exploring a more environmental set of coordinates.
Lucas Blalock’s most recent solo exhibition was part of Art Basel Statements in 2014. He has also held solo exhibitions with Ramiken Crucible, New York and Griffin Editions, Brooklyn among others. Blalock’s work has been included in group exhibitions with Marianne Boesky, New York; PS1, New York; On Stellar Rays, New York; Bodega, Philadelphia; Higher Pictures, New York; Foam Photography Museum Annex, Amsterdam; and Vox Populi, Philadelphia. His work has been discussed in numerous publications, including Mousse Magazine, Artforum, Frieze, Art In America, and The New Yorker. Blalock received his MFA from UCLA, Los Angeles. He lives and works in Brooklyn.