Monday, March 1, 2010

Paul Pfeiffer

Paul Pfeiffer

Work from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Video interview and short video clip here.

""Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" is the title of an ongoing series of photographs. It started with five images that were material drawn from publicity stills of Marilyn Monroe, with the central figure removed. And at this point it’s kind of morphed into something else. Now I’m raiding the archives of the NBA and finding photographs that I’m manipulating to, generally speaking, remove a lot of contextual detail to leave a kind of solitary figure in the setting of a crowd of people.

The series started with research that I was doing into, at the time, images of Marilyn Monroe. Why Marilyn? At that point I thought this has got to be one of the most famous human bodies in the archive. It conjures up so much, it’s such a legend. And so I went through these images and ended up selecting a few of them and then going in and erasing Marilyn Monroe from the image. One of the things that really interested me was that in the process, really what was going on was not so much erasure and it never really is. It’s actually more like camouflage in the sense that you are taking pieces of the background from around the image and very slowly applying these pieces over the body so that in the end you’re presenting the illusion that you are seeing through to the background. But in fact you are inventing background material that wasn’t there before.

What I found out or what I ended up with, which I didn’t really expect, was in some ways the most abstract images that I’ve made so far. Unless you know that Marilyn was there you wouldn’t otherwise know that there was a figure there, much less that it was specifically Marilyn. At the time I was really quite focused on the process itself and the historical resonance and the emotional resonance that I felt working on these images. I’ve been asked after the fact how I would describe that, and I’ve thought that it’s a bit like what people describe as far as ghost limbs among soldiers. In a war people lose a limb and will have this continuing feeling like they still have that limb. Like a ghost limb. Another kind of dramatic example is when the World Trade Center went down. For long afterwards you sort of looked up and expected to see something there. Although it’s literally taking the figure away, in some ways it’s also intensifying something about the figure that used to be there.

Now this year and late last year I’ve been continuing this series under the same title, "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," but talking a very different approach. Now I’m starting from images that I’m drawing from the online archive of the NBA. These are images that you can pull up on your screen and then order for something like twenty or thirty bucks a pop, and some of them are quite amazing. They go back to the 1950s and are some of the most striking images of sports legends in the environment of the stadium or the arena with the crowds in the background. And so I’ve been selectively appropriating these images and manipulating them to remove all the contextual detail, so that what remains is not an absent figure but an intensified figure by virtue of the fact that you are lacking some aspects of a context to place it in.

In the last of these images that I completed, for example, I started from an image taken from a game in which Wilt Chamberlain is putting the ball in the basket and there’s three or four figures around him all trying to prevent him from doing that. And the figure that remains is not Wilt Chamberlain. It’s actually one of the minor figures from the margins of the image. All the others were removed and this sideline image was moved to the center. So for me it’s quite striking because, by virtue of being in the margins, I suppose the person who composed the shot wasn’t too concerned with what the figure on the side was doing. He’s reaching up to stop the ball and is in this position that’s so foreshortened that his shoulders almost completely cover his head. His head is thrown far back and his legs are extended out in a kind of extreme way.

Moving this figure to the center makes sense if you see him on the margins. It's an odd contradiction that you’re left with because now it seems the shot was composed completely around him. And it's breaking every rule of composition. It looks like his head is chopped off, all of his limbs look awkward. To me it almost resembles the figure in a photograph of a lynching. At any rate, there’s a strange kind of inconsistency to the composition of the image. At the same time this awkwardly composed person is standing dead center in an arena surrounded by thousand of people who are watching—and there is no ball, no basket, no reason for him to be jumping or floating in this way. It is the sense of not just a lack of context, but in a way it looks like this figure has somehow been frozen into this frame. It looks quite airless and almost like a stain on the image." - Paul Pfeiffer via Art 21

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