Carter Mull‘s work in New Photography 2009 is full of vibrant color and patterns. Beyond the surface is a body of work that explores language, our relationship to images in an image-saturated world, and the spectre of the death of print media and chemical photography. In the following Q&A, Carter talks to me in detail about his work.
Eva Respini: How did you become interested in the Los Angeles Times as the starting point for the body of work on view in New Photography 2009?
Carter Mull: Initially, I was drawn to a question about the psychological impact of an image. Journalism and the media had been in the background of my thinking for a number of years—and I was curious about the question of how one responds to an image of distant trauma, contextualized within the framework of the local newspaper. Also, the very material—the literal placement of advertising next to news—was an intriguing reality.
ER: The title for this series is Triggers for Everyday Fiction, and you refer to these photographs as “triggers” and “responses.” I like thinking about the relationship between the pictures as a kind of call and response. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
CM: The project began about two years ago with the initial program of considering a media site, in this case the Los Angeles Times, as a point of departure. I wanted to treat the lead image of the paper as a generator of sorts—and the output of the works as a whole as somehow governed by the grammar of the idea. The terms you refer to work as a nomenclature to designate points within the body of work. At the moment, I think about the images taken together as a series of passages—and as an active cognitive process.
ER: I like how in this body of work the systems of the transmission of information becomes material for your images. Can you talk a bit about your process?
CM: The processes vary from photograph to photograph: some are darkroom procedures, some employ the customary tools of mass photo production to different ends, and some are a combination of both. There is this distinction made between digital and analog photography. Questions surrounding the obsolescence of one means of production seem to be resolved well by artists older than myself. For me, these distinctions between different generations of technology are real concerns—but more important to me is a sense of the material life of an image. This is a question not of tearing or scratching photo paper, but of bringing the material life of an image into proximity with the viewer. With the Triggers of Everyday Fiction, I wanted to treat a digital file, among other things, as a substance that is as material as the sheet of paper the image prints to.
ER: In the past, you’ve used the term “analog Photoshop” in reference to your work. What exactly does that mean?
CM: This is a phrase that seems to have caught on circa 2003. It came about through working with the common technology of Photoshop. In considering the ubiquity of this type of image making, I wanted to bring a different sense of temporality into image production. To do this, it somehow seemed necessary to be able to enter into a photographic language with a working logic that was out of the bounds of how photography is usually employed in either “fine art” or commercial production.
ER: In some of these pictures you purposely obscure the information in the newspaper. For example, in the work Eleven, the date of the paper is eliminated, but the headlines refer to the plane crash in Buffalo earlier this year. In the place of the lead picture (which I imagine was a photograph of the plane wreckage—the kind of images that sells papers), you’ve inserted your own more bucolic image. Can you talk about that a bit?
CM: The proposition that journalism and concrete poetry are somehow two sides of the same coin interests me. Also, recently I’ve been concerned with the question of how information from a media site registers within the space of reception. I wanted to pose a problem on the question of the reception of an image, specifically the lead image of the LA Times. Although I am still in the midst of this project, I can’t help but wonder if posing the local in relation to the national or global can work as a trigger of sorts.
ER: It seems that the impending obsolescence of print media is analogous to the fate of chemical photography. Is that something that you’re thinking about with these works?
CM: The images of the newspapers were the first images I made without film. I could not avoid the question of obsolescence in relation to certain materials and technologies of technical reproduction. Yet it seems to me that the question is less about beating the death drum of chemical photography and more about investigating art and artistic agency in a field of image production, where the tools of the image trade have become, within the last couple years, readily accessible.