Aaron Rothman

Aaron Rothman

Aaron Rothman

Signal Noise

124 Pages
First Edition
Hard Cover
Radius Books
2018

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From the artist:

“Signal Noise” is a multifaceted body of work that seeks to expand the language of landscape photography to better address the complexities, uncertainties and contradictions that underlie current understandings of the idea of nature. I use unorthodox digital image processing to examine the natural world and our place within it in a time of rapid technological expansion, a changing environment, and a decreasing sense of connection to physical place.

Landscape has been the primary focus of my work since I began making photographs. About ten years ago, I realized that my experience of the natural landscape had shifted—becoming more mediated by digital technology, and increasingly colored by anxiety about climate change and the ubiquitous, but often invisible, effects of human presence on the systems of the natural world. I found that digitally transforming my images opened up the possibility of exploring the increasingly porous borders between natural and artificial, real and virtual, wild and cultivated. My images still originate in a sense of connection to the place and time of photographing. Their final form, however, comes out of a long working process following the moment of initial exposure.

Starting with straight landscape photographs, my images go through a number of digital transformations: layering visual information from multiple images together; removing certain predefined areas of images; creating visual obstruction, distortion, or tone/color reversals; heightening digital “noise,” artifacts and defects. Images emerge from the different combinations of photographic information and digital parameters, which, while obviously digitally produced, can also appear strangely organic. Unaltered images interspersed in the larger body of work anchor it in the space of the real world while simultaneously casting doubt about what is real and what is a figment of photographic, perceptual or human alteration.

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Book review by Jinny Choi |

Signal Noise presents us with the paradox of the American West: the constant clash between its liberating vastness and its existential void. The vast landscapes of the desert mountains simultaneously provoke a sense of freedom and anxiety. The brutality of the heat can be felt beyond the pages; the desert mountains seem at first serene, but the mere thought of being translocated to the forsaken land feels suffocating in every sense. Rothman’s images hint at the endless potential of the unrestrained territory, yet with that, a feeling of disturbing emptiness inevitably follows. 

The altered images are also suggestive of ecological doom, as the warm hues dominate the mood of the pictures. In his Lightness series, we even sense the literal fading of the environment—as the lightest part of each layer is given precedence and the colors become more and more muted, fading into further abyss. It is as if we are witnessing the very erasure of its colors from its own suffocation. As Rothman says in his own words:

In Arizona, where I live, the summer light is more obliterating than illuminating. It strips away contours and detail, flattening the surfaces it touches. To render the sensation of this light, I began digitally removing shadows from my photographs and filling in those voided areas with unnaturally bright colors – an artificial intensity to counter the sun’s brilliance.

Lightness (SB) , 2015

Lightness (SB), 2015

Rothman veers far from New Objectivity; he is not interested in strict mimesis. His photographs are meant to be taken as pieces that have perceivably been transformed. Signal Noise is preoccupied with the blending of the real, represented by the natural landscapes—and the artificial, evoked by the polychromatic manipulation. 

Interspersed with the landscape images are his Wildflower series that are comparable to floral wallpaper. What do these decorative wallpapers have to do with the American West? The existence of these “living” subjects seem like synthetic supplements to the terrain that looks and feels too barren. Although the floral representations coexist with the landscapes within the binding of Rothman’s book, they are still separated by the pages. Living things occupy a different space from that of the arid landscapes, as if the subject (flowers) and background (landscape) have been determinedly separated.

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The Wildflower series is reminiscent of Christian Marclay’s 2008 piece, Allover (Genesis,Travis Tritt, and others). Marclay who is interested in visualizing and photographing sound, created this work by unspooling magnetic tapes from cassette tapes. The sporadic nature of the work evokes Abstract Expressionist paintings, as does the Wildflower series.

The most obvious observation one could make of the Wildflower series is the fragmentation of the flowers. They are purposefully shredded—mimicking what we as humans collectively do to nature—continuing to control, exploit, and introduce more and more artificiality to the world. It also signals to the futility of attempting to create a holistic image. Nothing in the Wildflower series is a whole. All falls away from itself and all we are left with are assumptions: assumptions of what the subject once was without ever being given the whole representation of the natural world. We assume that these are flowers because we see likenesses of flowers and plants in Rothman’s images, adding to the sense of hallucination and dehydration. The cover image of the confetti-like flecks is the ultimate archetype of this hallucinatory fragmentation, as we can no longer even recognize the likeness of what the image once represented.

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The title Signal Noise on the front cover of the book cannot be deciphered at a fleeting glance either. The white text overlayed on top of the already distracting array of colored specks makes the text and the background blend in, coalescing into single chaos. The idea parallels the information overload of our digital age. News, fiction, reality all blend into a conglomeration of information distracting us from what is imminent, contributing to our anxiety. 

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Abstract photography is existential in nature. When the medium that has been trusted as the most accurately representative of the natural world, and hence the most rational, begins to morph and abstract, what can we longer trust as real? As Susan Sontag states in her 1977 book of essays, On Photography,  “Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise...in the very creation of a duplicate world, of a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision.” 

Rothman brings us to this reality in the second degree. One not perceived by natural vision, but one that nevertheless ushers us to perceive reality that is perhaps just as real.

Grab a copy of the book here

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