SL: I was a big fan of the work you had at the previous deCordova Biennial. That work, titled Any Color You Like, did something so immediate and captivating that I am still thinking about it. You hear a lot of talk about audience engagement and interactivity in contemporary art but in all honestly, I am always wary of an artist that tries to involve me in their work. The current vein of participatory/relational art seems oddly about spectacle and distraction (I think of Carsten Holler's Experience at the New Museum). But your work involved me in a visceral way. I found myself really engaging and imagining what the situation posited in the photographs would be in "reality." I was determined to understand what had been lost in these images, namely, their color. I got tremendously invested in what I thought I was seeing and what I was claiming and naming, so much so that I was completely dumbstruck that someone else had a completely different understanding of what was being imaged. I could not recall the last time an artwork sparked this kind of internal and external disagreement about what it clearly pictured. I remember thinking that I was more involved with what I was looking at than I had been in a long time. It was really satisfying.
The current work requires that same attention from me. Presented with all of photography's indexical power, the photos seem to be empirical, almost like data. But in the looking they unravel and unfold into a larger, less stable proposition. They use presence AND absence to do this and that leads me to my question:
How do the poetics of loss, the nature of objects, and implications of nostalgia inform your photographic practice?
MG: When someone asks me what my photography is, my best (and most unsure) answer is academic photography. My interest lies in trying to understand how camera technology led to certain conventions in seeing—a history of photographic methodologies. The best way for me to participate in this discussion is to make artwork that probes these conventions through a series of orthodox methods (utilizing processes faithfully, but in way that would be incorrect).
A black-and-white photograph is a signifier of data, information, and history (including mystery and drama). It is also a signifier of the past, and more potently, a site for nostalgia. Marshall McLuhan described nostalgia as a loss of identity—defining the present as reenactment of past forms. Are notions of photographic truth fueled by uncertainty within the present tense? Is it possible to create a black-and-white photograph today whose value is not based in latent nostalgia?
The photographs of Any Color You Like require interaction with a viewer's own expectations. Is it possible to describe color verbally? Does it require prior knowledge of color to be able to describe it? These images involve language to reconcile the missing content within the pictures. The desire for color creates vacuum in which one seeks to restore any of the possible colors missing in the photographs. Historical color is imaginary.
Matthew Gamber's work is on view in a two-person exhibition at the Hagedorn Foundation Gallery, in Atlanta, Georgia. The show, also featuring Peter Bahouth, is called New Takesand is on view from November 13, 2014–January 10, 2015.