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Suffusion l

Suffusion l

Smoke, 2004

I don’t smoke. Still, I’ve spent hours mesmerized by the sinuously flowing patterns found in smoke. Maybe I just like to play with fire, collecting incense and smoke bombs, seeing what kinds of smoke different materials produce, watching what candles and matches look like after they have been blown out. The chaotic patterns found in smoke reveal the fascinating complexities of fluid dynamics. It’s action and reaction; interaction. Even the tiniest current of air can produce a major change.

It’s exciting to play the whole spectrum. Create an effect from scratch. Combine it with photographic material. Modify an existing photograph. Make a photograph. They’ve all worked for me.

Maybe that’s because the variety of shapes and forms smoke can take is so great that almost any configuration will fly. Maybe that’s because the speed with which it appears and disappears distracts us from studying it carefully. Maybe the reason we accept substitutes for smoke is that we haven’t looked very closely at it, closely enough to truly make it a part of us. It’s so easy to take the commonplace for granted, and doing so makes it easier for us to accept commonplace substitutes. I’ve found that close, sustained attention solves all this. It’s worth more than any tip, trick, or technique. No one can give it to you. Only you can give it to yourself.

The kaleidoscopic beauty of smoke is an extraordinary tool in so many ways and on so many levels.

Compositionally, smoke is extraordinarily flexible. It can be thick or thin, heavy or diffuse, contained or scattered, simple or complex. You can draw a line in any direction, linking two objects or creating a new focus of attention. You can literally draw the eye to any point in an image along any path.

I like the ambiguity in Suffusion i. What’s hot? What’s cold? The surrounding field of smoke that envelopes the space within the image is diffuse. It could be read as a product of the environment, perhaps even something off the frame, or as a bi-product of a source of smoke existing within the image. The central strand of smoke is contained. It comes to a definite point and has a particular origin. Much as it is the central focus, like an arrow, it points to another major compositional element — the white capped wave. Is this an image of something recently submerged or something about to emerge? This solitary enigma hovering over an abyss suggests the void. In the end, the image becomes as much about what’s not there as it is about what is there. It’s about residues. As with all photographs, we see only residues. Typically the objects and events we see in them are long gone. This image is both empty and full.