Photos without the camera
1078 Gallery show puts scanned images in new light
The half-dozen images on your left as you enter the 1078 Gallery are all of meat. There’s a speckled slice of olive loaf, house-like in shape; a bumpy, shiny chicken leg; and a long, skinny hot pepper that becomes, upon closer inspection, a Slim Jim. Each is much larger than life; each is imbued only in gradations of gray. Each is pretty repulsive to look at.
And Tom Patton, whose exhibit, Icons and Artifacts, seems pleased as punch at this response. “Certainly I’m aware of the fact that what they’re of for some people is repulsive. And I like that idea.”
But, more than repulsion, Patton, who also chairs Chico State’s Art and Art History Department, is fascinated by everyday objects, ones whose meaning inevitably gets lost in their constant use.
“One of the things that I’ve always been drawn to is sort of the banal subject. Taking a subject that, through the act of photography, by rendering it, and hopefully transforming it, [turns] into something that you might think about.”
Patton is most successful at achieving this idea with the tools series within the exhibit, objects that “aren’t as much about working as they are about destroying.” Each image is of a different tool, captured using a scanner against a white background. The tools—sickle, saw, collapsible hatchet—are actually quite beautiful, details crisp and grays deep. One of the most intriguing pieces, a “frog gig,” came to him from a member of his baseball team, who had stopped by Patton’s house while he was working on this project.
“He wasn’t an art person, but he was interested and curious. I was in the middle of a scan, so he came down to my basement where I had everything set up. And he asked, ‘Well, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m scanning some tools,’ and he said, ‘Well, what for?'” Patton then asked him if he had any interesting tools. It turns out he had a frog gig out in his car, which is a tool used to stab and kill frogs, apparently for their legs.
“But again, to me, that dichotomy of something that when you realize the connotations of it they are a little unsettling—on the other hand, I think as objects, they are very beautiful.”
This idea of transforming the everyday through photography is used by Patton as a way of creating a self-portrait of sorts. In his suite of images of envelopes, the content and addresses of these items of mail reveal where he has been.
“To me that forms a person, it forms my self, and I’m connected to these places in some form or another. To me, if I photograph myself you would see what I look like, but I don’t know that it tells you a whole lot about the way I think.”
What may be the most unique part of the show comes not from the content so much as the means of capturing it. Patton’s use of a scanner, rather than a camera, gives his objects a three-dimensional quality that makes for powerful images.
“Partly what you’re doing as an artist is learning the control over the materials, so that you get the materials to do what you want rather than what they want to do.” The ease of using a scanner to capture objects, rather than a camera, is obviously limited by the size of the object. But for Patton it seems a perfect fit.
“One of the things that attracted me to the electronic environment is that I have so much more control over the final image than I did using film. To me, it’s just that element of control."