Abstract Incarnations of Place: Portraits by Amy Archer
August 16, 2008
Amy Archer began making large-scale, photographic art works by accident. In 2005, she was meeting a friend for breakfast at the Rockefeller Center Club in Manhattan. While waiting, she snapped some photos of the light glinting off the restaurant’s Art Deco-style chairs. When the C-prints came back from the printer, Archer began to play with them, turning them upside down and alternating them to create an argyle-like pattern.
Until then, her reputation as an art photographer had relied on smaller, carefully chosen images of single details from architecture, interiors, or landscapes, which she calls “place portraits.” But now she also creates large works that rely on repetition and manipulation of scale to arrive at compelling, abstract portraits of particular places. She constructs the large-scale compositions by arranging a number of C-prints on a “canvas” of white museum board, often 17 to 40 inches wide. “Ordinary images become extraordinary by creating a pattern,” says the New York-based artist. Frequently Archer turns the resulting composite works into digitally printed photographic murals.
She chooses her subject matter to capture the “psyche of the place,” and by repeating and rearranging them, Archer finds “they become something else.” An alley in Portland, Oregon, where the New Jersey native lived before moving to New York, appealed because of its two differently hued walls, one red, one off-white, flanking a beige cement path. Captivated by the play of shadow and light, Archer photographed the setting, rearranging the 3.5- by 5-inch C-prints to form an abstract work of receding planes.
After Archer photographed a clump of birches near Astoria, Oregon, she laid the 3.5- by 5-inch modules on their sides, so that the trunks were horizontal, although placed vertically on the 32- by 40-inch museum board. The Birches (2007) is now being digitally printed as a 9-by-3-foot long horizontal mural for an installation in The Harrison, an apartment building designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects on the Upper West Side, which is scheduled to open next year.
For another composite work, Archer took photos on a car ferry in Port Townsend, Washington, focusing on the different textures and colors of the rusty tray that pulls cars onto the dock, juxtaposed with the patterns of the water. Archer took photos from the bow and stern to capture the water, with and without the wake, and then manipulated the twenty 3-by-5-inch images of each type of watery surface to create her canvas. She also matched them to form ovals, noting, “I didn’t quite expect to see an African pattern develop from a photo of a car ferry.”
A particularly arresting composite resulted from photos Archer took of a tree branch in Portland, Oregon, in the winter of 2005. Working with 3-by-5-inch images, she formed a larger composition, and seeing its resemblance to a long Japanese scroll, created a digital print on thick, soft, Hahnemeule paper to heighten the effect.
Among the most surprising of her “incarnations” of place, as she calls them, is Rem Koolhaas’s Seattle Public Library (Record July 2004, page 88). Right after it opened, Archer visited the structure. She was mesmerized by the hyper-scale pattern of the grass in the carpet designed by Petra Blaisse of Inside/Out, Amsterdam, which contrasted remarkably with the vertiginous views of escalators and visitors in other photos that she took from an elevated vantage point. “The patterns create a sense of intrigue and add a new dimension to the original perception,” Archer aptly observes about the surreal result. The Seattle Library fits well with Archer’s imaginative approach, where she seems to capture Koolhaas’s sense of space, as well as how people use it. In all of the abstracted photographic composites she manages to both embody the particular essence of the place, but also provide another way to view it—indeed another incarnation.
To view additional work by Amy Archer, visit amyarcherart.com.