September 20, 2010

From the Interior: Frank Rodick (Part 1)

It begins in the city, in pursuit of some definitive moment, a thread of meaning where all visible elements coalesce and finding only the familiar uncertainty, where everything appears broken. Yet by allowing the medium itself to “fail” in an especially revealing way, finding time and its distortions as something fluid, irrational even, Frank Rodick begins to articulate a particular language within photography, where the present itself becomes unrecognisable, torn apart. It is no coincidence either that these first images concentrate on the movement of people through the city, the figure and its permutations – slippages – are fundamental to Rodick’s work, its real core. Faces become masks, reduced to gesture and outline, perhaps we’re seeing the real face, or at least another of many, the infinite regression of permissible (and impermissible) selves.

He then begins to move even further inward, descending bodily into the labyrinth, but the effect is much the same. Boundaries don’t hold and are subsequently impossible to restore; these changes are material – or even more so, of some deeper substance. Trace the nerves, under the permeable skin, the hungering flesh, to an architecture of bone, all the abrupt transitions of self – to nothing, and the fact of that incomprehensible absence is what animates Frank Rodick’s work, out on the furthest edge of consciousness.

Image and reality bleed together, each finding a way to contaminate the other. The use of language becomes crucial too, though not necessarily validating – it serves only to deepen the mystery, a challenge to whatever expectations we might have about the difference between words and the pictures to which they are so tenuously anchored.There’s also something about the multiple images and series, his purposeful insistence on a fractured perspective that suggests a real frustration with our understanding of what photography can be.

(Fragments of a celestial abattoir and La pucelle from Arena)

A shifting, ambiguous sprawl, resistant to meaning – whatever rises unbidden from the depths, these are fictions interchangeable with truth, a plunge into the chasm of our visual unconscious, connecting memory and trauma in some visceral way. They are fragments of an internal dialogue played over obsessively, messages from the interior. Rodick finds grotesque (but faithful) mirrors for our own tragic profanity, our brokenness and the impossible hope for redemption, this horribly immediate and liquid flesh, with its longings that cannot be fully satisfied, yet never denied. He goes even further to demonstrate its presence; these are dense objects, enclosures for the slaughterhouse tracings of desire.

(Room 36 (Time on earth) from Faithless Grottoes)

So this is how we come apart and what shows through the cracks, the often desolate landscape of our souls. These images reveal the numb confusion in discovering that the most violent extremes of experience and emotion are concealed by stray aspects of everyday life, it’s just a matter of pulling back the curtain a little, or a slip in the habits of seeing for this other world to be laid bare. The brutal and beautiful photographic work of Frank Rodick touches on the darkest themes of our existence, the deepest shadows brought reluctantly into the light.

He has been kind enough to answer a few questions, providing a real insight into his background and the development of his extraordinary work. (Frank's website is here).

What was it that first drew you to photography?

A number of things come to mind. First of all, it was a marriage of relative convenience. My father was an amateur photographer who could be pretty fanatical about it. Apparently there were nights when he wouldn’t sleep at all because he was printing in the basement darkroom. Then he’d just go to work in the morning. So I grew up surrounded by photographs and cameras and darkroom equipment and started using all of it pretty young. If I remember correctly, I knew how to print a photograph before I learned how to ride a bike.

Also my parents owned a bookstore, which was a pretty amazing place to grow up in. It was a true independent, liberal bookstore in Montreal at a time and in a place that actually made this a big deal. Because my father was into photography, they always carried a lot of books and other stuff that was very oriented to the image. Part of the business was used and antiquarian materials, so not only were there photography books, but there were old pamphlets and postcards and magazines. My parents just bought everything they could, selling some of it, keeping the rest. There was tons of this stuff in the house, so the home I grew up in was like some mythological library, with printed materials of all kinds, stacked everywhere, literally up to the ceilings, just waiting to be found. Also, my parents never stopped me from looking at anything I pleased. It didn’t matter what I found; I could look at it. It could be an old magazine about blue movies – I remember a few of those – or World War One pamphlets or children’s books. It didn’t matter.

So I really grew up inundated by photographic images. Maybe because the house – rather like the store too – was quite chaotic and crowded – my parents weren’t hyper organized, to say the least – I think I got pretty used to the idea and the feeling of all kinds of images juxtaposed against each other, regardless of where they came from. I don’t know if I thought that was great or not back then – it sounds pretty great to me right now – but it didn’t feel weird at all. Maybe it was like living in a 3D collage.

So, when I got around to deciding that I wanted to do something along the lines of artistic expression, photography was right there, as both a technical process I was familiar with and as an experience I’d lived with.

There are aspects of this decision that came on another, later, level. Once I decided that I’d make art my vocation – and that decision was, for at least a brief period of time, a pretty painful one because I’d had another career rather neatly mapped out for myself – I seriously considered some kind of filmmaking career. I really loved the medium, and still do – there’s nothing like it, it’s magic when it works – and I did a couple of years of formal study. But I came to the conclusion that the communitarian part of it, the necessity of making teams work, would eventually drive me crazy. I grew up doing a lot of stuff on my own – for what it’s worth, I’m an only child and I spent lots of time by myself – and I just came to feel that photography was a better fit for my character. There was something that felt soothing and romantic and even heroic about working alone for hours in that orange darkroom glow, listening to music, and trying to bring images to life.

Aside from all these things, when I reflect, I think, and still think, that still photography does a particular thing for me better than any other medium, even film, and that is to somehow make things feel “real” to me, more real than they feel in so-called real life. I don’t mean natural, I mean real, in the psychic, experiential sense. Certain photographs can just make me feel like I’m experiencing something for the first time in its most basic and fundamental sense. It’s not just seeing that expression for the first time, for example; it’s really like getting an experiential sense of what an expression actually is, which through words is indescribable. There’s something about photography’s stillness, its special relationship to time, its two dimensional quality, the parameters imposed by the image’s physical limits; they all somehow take me to a deeper and more engaged – and ultimately more satisfying – place in myself. In that sense, a great photograph is like a seductress: it draws you in completely, it excites with its promise of something unfamiliar but still approachable; it takes you someplace you’ve not been to before but still has enough of a lifeline to something you think you know that you’re not completely lost, just lost enough that it’s all exciting and a bit dangerous. And knowing you’re at least a little lost – and maybe more than that – is ultimately always a lot more interesting than thinking you know where you’re going, which is almost always an illusion when it comes to anything more consequential than going around the corner to get a liter of milk.

(Continues here).