Vivian Cooper Smith’s exhibition, The Stranger, is a collection of fourteen new photographic works dealing with the notion of subjectivity.
The artist explores this by engaging with the traditional fine art subject-matter of still life through photography. He situates this exploration in two paintings by Caravaggio entitled ‘Supper at Emmaus’ that depict Jesus (previously a stranger) at the moment where the pilgrims recognise him for who he is. Smith draws the objects for his images from the items on the dinner table depicted in these paintings.
Whilst employing digital processes Smith does not use digital manipulation in the creation of his work. All of the ‘effects’ on view are created ‘in-camera’, with custom processes the artist has developed for his purpose. He views photography as a performative act, and he says of his meticulous production method, “the camera, paper, lights, and subject matter are beyond the complete control of the photographer, and so are acknowledged as ‘collaborators.’”
Across the exhibition, there is a strong suggestion of passing time. Objects appear, caught in movement, or they literally begin to fade into or emerge from their backgrounds. In this respect, the images suggest the C17th Dutch painting tradition of ‘vanitas’ still life, which show the transience of life.
The objects depicted are ‘shifting’, and in flux, challenging the historic idea of the ‘veracity’ of a photographic record. In some works, objects are ‘recorded’ in double-image, or sometimes two similar objects are presented as if they were a double exposure of one. This lends an ethereal other-worldliness to Smith’s still lifes, as if they are manifestations within a sumptuous dream.
The artist states: “By disrupting, dispersing the objects, through long exposure and movement, I am multiplying them and, therefore, challenging the notion of singular being.”