(Australia 1984 – )
39.9 x 29.7 cm (sight); 42.4 x 32.2 x 2.0 cm frame
Through her work, Justine Varga examines the mechanisms of the photographic medium and the way a photograph retains the trace of its subject. Using camera-less photographic techniques as well as analogue lens-based processes, Varga produces images that offset the speed of the digital snapshot. She challenges the notion of the photographic instant, sometimes exposing a single piece of film for six months or more.
‘Desklamp’ from the series ‘Film object’, a camera-less photograph, is an image produced by an exposure that lasted nearly an entire year. Over that time, a 4x5 inch large format film negative was placed on top of Varga’s desk lamp. Without a lens or shutter to control the exposure, the negative has been severely overexposed. This image does not operate like a normal photograph. In the place of recognizable form and referential composition there is abstraction. By overexposing the negative, Varga surrenders the image to what is ordinarily considered a technical error. A mistake that usually results in the obscuration of a subject has become the desired means of representation. The degradation of the negative has become a compositional feature.
What is imprinted on the surface of this photograph is not derived from a single ‘take’ but is an aggregate of an extended instant. This still image is a static record of an object, the desklamp, over an extended period of time.
In the ‘Still life’ works, also from the ‘Film object’ series, camera-less photographs appear alongside more legible scenes made with an analogue camera. ‘Still life #2’ was created in the darkroom by exposing the photographic paper to light without a negative. This minimalist photogram reduces the photographic process to its simplest terms. ‘Still life #3’ plays to the conventions of photographic representation. The fruit delicately arranged on the table recalls the composition of a still life by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Yet even in this image there is something obscuring the forms from view. A piece of plastic has been draped over the fruit like a fine veil. In subtly masking this scene, Varga continues to question the function of the photographic image, exploring a photograph’s communicative potential beyond the constraints of straight representation.
Anna Davis (Editor), Primavera, Sydney, 2012, 10.
Katie Dyer (Editor), The lookout, Sydney, 2012.
Primavera, Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia, 04 Oct 2012–02 Dec 2012