Odette England: The Outskirts, Exposed, and Punched
Odette England, Plate #60, 20172018. Pigment print, 22 x 17 inches. © Odette England/Courtesy of Klompching Gallery, New York.
New YorkKLOMPCHING GALLERY
March 21 – May 11, 2019
The world’s first known photograph is an elusive form: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras (c. 1826–1827) is a barely-there, silhouetted, softly-edged view from an upstairs window in Paris—one that archives its subject in only the most allusive form. The image has faded over time, and what remains most legible is the photograph’s history of preservation and ownership: peripheral marks like scratches and mottling. Though View from the Window at Le Gras could not perfectly fix a memory, evidence of it remains.
Odette England puts photographic peripheries at the center of her work, whether the edges of images or the residual marks left behind by photographic process. Not relegated to what is within the frame, England is concerned with photography’s objecthood, residuality, and edges. Much of England’s work begins with family snapshots, but her practice is decidedly unconcerned with presenting a cogent narrative from within these archives. Three bodies of work are intimately presented in Klompching’s DUMBO gallery. In them, formal strategies of redaction, removal, and concealment unseat familiar tropes of archival vernacular photography, eschewing the seductive, precious nostalgia of the family snapshot. England challenges the fixity of the photograph, using family archives not as deductive sources, but as catalysts for reimagining how photographs can be read.
In Periphery (2018), an interior page taken from photo album is draped slightly askew over a photograph of what looks like foliage in a greenhouse. What might exist behind the page is implied at the edges of the square photograph: blurred, almost-indiscernible vines growing up curved fencing. Behind the overlaid tan page might be the core of the image, perhaps a portrait of a family member. Periphery, however, does not reveal; whatever truth is obscured is not to be known.
Odette England, Margin, 2018. Pigment print, vintage photo album page, 22 x 17 inches. © Odette England/Courtesy of Klompching Gallery, New York.
Frame (2018) is part of a larger series, “The Outskirts,” in which England attaches pages pulled from family photo albums to pigment-print enlargements of snapshots previously displayed on those pages. England’s deconstruction of these photo albums subverts their purpose to retain and preserve memory. Instead, she underscores the impossibility of ever truly regaining a photographed moment. Only edges of the enlarged snapshots—often bearing physical wear and fading—are within reach, and England employs the language of edges as titles, using words like verge, frame, limit, fringe, frontier, and border. The works are distinctly devoid of the human figure, perhaps because the placement of album pages covers up human presences in the background images, as may be the case in Margin (2018). Here, a blurred beach landscape is covered by a vertically-oriented page, aging with yellowing edges and water stains, that feels at human scale. Is there a person laying beneath?
England’s methods of removal become even more pronounced in “Punched,” which begins from 1960s and 1970s-era snapshots from her family archive. England uses a hole-puncher to remove large swathes from each print, a permanently-redacting gesture. Different prints are then layered together, creating a fictive landscape composed of multiple images, the way memories can collapse on and into each other, becoming one. Punched #19 (2018–19) layers a seascape, a clockwise-turned mountain, and wooded landscape into a single topsy-turvy world. In a recent interview with Mark Alice Durant, England called these gestures, “terribly mean...but it’s always done with a loving hand.”1 The punch is indeed a paradox: reminiscent to child-like drawings of clouds, the holes have a whimsical possibility, and yet the sharp finality of each press is palpably violating. While the shapes are amorphous, the holes allude to a central subject removed that separates the photographs from specificity. What, or who, for example, was removed from Punched #76 (2018)? The rounded empty space recalls the cathartic tearing up of photographs after a failed romance, removal in pursuit of a memory wiped clean.
Odette England, Punched #76, 20182019. Photo collage of vintage snapshots, 3.5 x 3.5 inches. © Odette England/Courtesy of Klompching Gallery, New York.
“Exposed,” the most formally traditional series on view, presents an archive of traces. Texturally reminiscent of the Niépce plate, England photographs stains and scratches on double-dark slides used in early large-format paper and dry plate processes. The black surface of Plate #60 (2017– 2018) is scuffed and stained with copper, metallic tones emerging from the eroded surface. The photographs made with these film holders are not the focus—they are unknown and orphaned from their origins. England’s interest is the residual evidence that photographs were made, over and over, leaving a residue of labor and imaging that perhaps lasts longer than the image itself.
England’s photo-sculptural interventions into archival material are contemplations on photographic materiality and the medium’s slippery relationship to preserving memory. The applied system of mark-making in each series so unites the individual works that it appears as if each series is a single piece. There is a pleasurable friction within England’s work in relationship to photography: while there is a distinct cynicism in photography’s potential to preserve memory, the works feel like a love letter to the medium, where criticality and expansiveness are rooted in commitment.
Durant, Mark Alice. “In The Studio: Odette England.” Photograph Mag. http://photographmag.com/issues/marchapril-2019/in-the-studio/ (accessed March 30, 2019). ↩