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CALIFORN-IR – a dystopic road trip through california
Author: Simon Puschmann
California: The Dream Factory, land of Counterculture & Innovation.
There is no other landscape in the USA that has shaped several generations of mass culture just like California has. In his new series CALIFORN-IR, Simon Puschmann devotes himself to infrared photography and offers the viewer an exciting and at the same time disruptive perspective into contemporary California.
45 works were created in February 2022 with a converted SonyA7R3 at 550nm, which allows the depiction of light beyond the visible spectrum.
Chlorophyll, which forms organisms that engage in photosynthesis appears green in the wave spectrum of the human eye, while under conditions of infrared photography it is either transparent - an observation first published by Robert Williams Wood in 1919 - or you can assign one of the seven spectral colors in post-processing. Puschmann chooses the wavelength that is visible to the human eye as yellow.
In ancient times, this color was associated with the sun and thus with life and growth as well as with the prosperity of society, an association that culminated under Louis XIV with the sun covered in gold leaf as a sign of his claim to power. Sunlight, perceived as yellow, gives warmth, light and growth, but the color yellow is also the color of sulfur, desert sand, or withered plants that have lost their chlorophyll and therefore are no longer able to perform photosynthesis.
By using the color yellow instead of the color red that is usually associated with infrared photography, Puschmann offers an unusual and at the same time irritating perspective. On the one hand, the framing of his works, which is sometimes well-proportioned, sometimes blurred and fleeting offers instances that bring out something new, something that has never been seen before. For example, a photograph showcasing the strung letters ‘Venice' dangling in the backlit sun and by the shadow play, the wording is condensed to 'nice', thus expressing a warm summery feeling, while a long-lens shot of a rough mountain landscape in its red and yellow colors suggests an autumnal mood.
The Golden Gate Bridge becomes a delicate sculpture in front of the bright sun with red-yellow leaves in the background, the elegance of which is undisputed, while a shot from a moving car with a view of a lonely bay, evokes a holiday feeling. On the other hand, replacing the green of the plants with a bright, almost poisonous yellow in some pictures opens up a chain of dystopian associations that not only evoke the beautiful transience of autumn or of summer freedom, but also of scorched leaves incapable of dealing with the natural chemical chlorophyll to carry out photosynthesis.
This artistic decision also gives the works a rugged and/or threatening notation, combined with the strong blue of the sky and the sun, often combined with a strong lens flare and the sophisticated framing can also be read as an admonition. Innocent snapshots taken from a car can be read as escape scenarios, street scenes, or views of the landscape passing by suggest the end of time, landscape photographs of coastal strips and mountain ranges pretend to be lunar-like landscapes and photographs of trees in the mountains or solitary trees on the coast become admonitory sculptures that tell of our nightmarish future despite their dreamlike beauty.
The shots of a very picturesque San Francisco with passers-by and its well-kept trees, an old VW bus from The 1970s, the icon for a life free from social constraints, or plants standing in apartment canyons, which are normally supposed to provide shade, beauty, and oxygen can be read as a warning in these photographs.
The age of the Anthropocene has been discussed in the arts for some time. It describes the human impact on the environment that is geologically visible. Light pollution, pollution of the oceans, consumption of resources, and high emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have become evident and have inscribed themselves on the face of the earth. With his CALIFORN-IRseries, Puschmann shows how it can be possible to make a valuable discursive contribution to contemporary art with sophisticated photographic means and an artistic flair, which not only artfully entertains the viewer with a new, unusual view of its beauty, but also almost indiscreetly pointing out the ecological consequences. In this, Puschmann was successful in creating images of ambivalent beauty.
Images: Simon Puschmann
Text: Alexandra Neuss
Do not miss! A talk about the project will be given at 11:30 a.m. on 16.10.22 at Photopia in Hamburg .