Rockford Art Museum

Rockford, IL



Lifelike: Alternative Realities in Recent Photography

May 11-July 22, 2001


Photography has long been regarded as an instrument of truth, one which can capture the visible world in all its minute texture and detail. Recent approaches to the medium, however, challenge such assumptions. Utilizing dioramas, staged events and digital wizardry, a number of contemporary artists are creating alternative and often improved worlds in their photographic works. The fictional images that result are given a surreal plausibility by the documentary power of photography. We are left wondering if we can indeed believe what we see.

The artists featured in Lifelike blend the real with the artificial in surprising, sometimes disconcerting ways. Kim Keever's romantic vistas portray a primeval world of sublime beauty. Ironically, this unspoiled paradise exists only in the artist's New York studio, an imaginary universe fabricated in an aquarium. Gregory Crewdson employs similar methods to create backyard dramas of an alien nature while Hiroshi Sugimoto memorializes the passing of the natural world in eerily beautiful photographs of taxidermied wildlife. (left: Kim Keever, Early Rockies, Cibachrome, 1998. Courtesy of DeChiara/Stewart Gallery, New York)

Constructing fables with both image and text, the work of Nancy Davenport is doubly engaging. Her tragicomic Accident Prone series documents in explicit detail the fate of an unlucky cast of characters pitted against nature. A similar dark humor inflects British artist Gavin Turk's absurd portrait Godot and Ken Fandell's faked photos of UFOs. Of a more sinister appeal are Keith Cottingham's fictitious portraits of idealized youths. Entirely computer generated, these perfect figures stare at us with vacant eyes, serving as chilling reminders of both the allure and the consequences of a new age of genetic engineering. Biotechnology, artificial intelligence, virtual media and digital manipulation have already begun to alter our perception of the natural world. Lifelike vividly illustrates the human desire to re-invent nature and our willingness to accept the simulation as its substitute. (left: Keith Cottingham, Double, digitally constructed photograph, 1993. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.)

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