On Photography

Insert (After Karl Blossfeldt), 2022, archival print, 24×40 inches

In the broadest sense, all of my work is photography about photography. My work from the 1970s explored the physicality of the photograph, its scale, the paper substrate, the difference between black and white and color photography and how treating the photographic print as an object affected its content and meaning. My cameraless darkroom works from the 1980s and 90s explored the concept of the camera as consciousness and the lens as a window between the conscious and sub-conscious realms.

During the last decade, 2012-2022, I began to focus directly on the history of photography, working with iconic images sourced from the internet, viewed from the perspective of the digital age.

After Henry Peach-Robinson, 2017, Cyanotype 30×34 inches.

My 2016 exhibition Waking Dream at Toronto’s Aird Gallery set the trajectory for subsequent projects.

Waking Dream traces the first hundred years of photography, from its invention in 1839 to its modernist triumphs in the early 20th century. The exhibition integrated still and moving imagery and a wide range of media techniques to reinterpret historical works. Looking to the composite images of 19th-century British photographer Henry Peach Robinson and the sequenced motion studies of Robinson’s contemporary Eadweard Muybridge, through to the advent of cinema, I mapped early analogue history onto the contemporary digital landscape.

Waking Dream, 2017, HD video, 12:16 min.

They Built wooden Platforms Out over the Water, 2022, archival Print, 20×24 inches, .

In the multimedia project The Promised Land, I explore the relationship of 19th Century landscape photography and the United States westward post Civil War expansion. Sourcing images from digital archives, I re-imagine seminal photographs by Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge and Timothy O’Sullivan from the point of view of our current technological, social and political condition. A central image in all these works, Carleton Watkins’ Cape Horn Near Celilo, 1867, stands as a metaphor for the claim of Manifest Destiny. The video work The Promised Land (below) interrogates Walt Whitman’s rousing call to arms Pioneers! O pionerrs! and the march to the American frontier and subsequent genocide of North America’s First Nations people.

Bill Jones: A Survey, The Vancouver Art Gallery, 1976.

My work from 1970 to 1977, while I lived and worked in Vancouver, BC, treated the photographic paper print as an object. In Twice Folded, 1971, I photographed a folded sheet of paper then folded the photograph creating the illusion of two folds. In most works, I enlarged each image to the scale of the objects in the image. In my Landscape series from 1972, I photographed building exteriors where windows reflected distant mountains, then covered the images of the reflective glass surfaces with sheet glass cut to the window frames’ perspectival shapes. In this way I framed the landscape in the image while doubling the photographed reflection with the viewer’s actual reflection. In two massive photographic installations (Elevations, Levitations and the Twist, 1973 and Casino Royale 1974), I mounted table-top images on plywood and attached dowel legs to the mount, making each image into a free-standing table. In these two installations, I laid out a narrative about my family’s 19th-Century westward migration to central California where I was born. The image above shows me holding photographs of my mother’s family who had homesteaded Nevada in the late 19th century.

Landscape # 4, 1973, 4×20 feet, silver prints with cut window glass. Installation view Trajectories ’73, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris.
Elevations, Levitations and the Twist, color and black and white photographs, wooden legs,
4×40 feet, 1973-74, Collection of The Art Gallery of Ontario.

Elevations, Levitations and the Twist, tables 1-7

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