STRANGE AND UNADORNED : WAVE INTERFERENCE STUDIES (NO. 1 – 19)
GRAPHITE ON CANSON BARBIZON PAPER
15.3 X 10.6 INCHES / 39 x 27 CENTIMETERS
2019 – 2020
These drawings source imagery from American photographer Berenice Abbott’s series Documenting Science, created during the 1940s and 50s, in which photographic exposures of light waves captured with Abbott’s patented ripple tank “camera” echoed processes of interference, evasion, and clandestine activity at play in public discourse during the anti-Communist and anti-scientific fervor of the McCarthy era.
Titled Strange and Unadorned, this series of drawings is executed in the style and visual patterning found in Berenice Abbott’s photographs demonstrating quantum wave theory for Scientific Illustrated and the Physical Science Study Committee. During the time she labored at this series of photographs, the United States was undergoing frenetic blacklisting and the panic of McCarthyism at the onset of the Cold War. Both Berenice Abbott and the Photo League – a cooperative organization devoted to documentary photography to which she belonged – were under investigation by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for communist affiliation and subversive activity.
Abbott considered this series depicting scientific phenomena to be one of the most important, yet unacknowledged, in her career. By representing these images in new media, I hope to draw attention to the history of a photographer whose work extended the definition of “documentation” beyond the typical boundaries of documentary photography, and which subtly yet elegantly described the world (both physical and political) she found herself in. This imagery today continues to point to (and unseat) complex metaphors of political and economic struggle (the invisible hand, black sites, election “interference,” political “resistance,” or the “wave” motion of political engagement, activism, and reactionaries). In activating overlooked and immaterial aspects of everyday space, the work also calls attention to the variety of waveforms (light, acoustics, and radio waves, for example) which permeate the air and pass through matter. In reiterating these forms and extending them in fantastic or imaginary spaces, I present a transformed fabric of cloaking, interference, interplay, and layered light that is marked by the physical features and technological processes of Abbott’s Super Sight reality: amplitude, troughs, frequency, repetition, and rhythmic, rippling surfaces.