Wednesday, July 4, 2018

"Robert Heinecken: Myth and Loss Reimagined" (2017 - 2018)

Robert Heinecken, Vanishing Photograph, 1973

In 2017, I was awarded the Photographic Arts Council / Los Angeles Research Fellowship at the Center for Creative Photography to study Robert Heinecken, a 20th century visionary whose work speaks strongly to 21st century practitioners. My intent was to document objects from his archive that comment on the growing gap between the analog and digital era and how accumulation is changing at a time where collecting is less common and experiences dominate. I wanted to learn more about Heinecken’s Vanishing Photographs and his cremated ashes stored in a salt shaker as they are the most poignant examples that bridge the gap between analog and digital. These ephemeral items are enshrouded in myth and they contribute to his legacy and I wanted to hold them in my hands.

Robert Heinecken, Paste-ups for Periodical #5 and Periodical #5, 1971

Despite our radical differences in subject matter, Heinecken is instrumental to my artistic process. His disregard for what he considered a photograph to be, his use of appropriation, his employment of guerilla tactics in the distribution of altered magazines, and his experimentation with three-dimensional presentation first drew me to him in undergraduate school. While in the archive, I made a discovery which altered my course and caused me to reconsider everything I thought I knew about him. While perusing fourteen VHS tapes of a 1995 seminar and two interviews as far back as 1975, I began to notice his memory loss and how it would eventually lead to Alzheimer’s. I lost count of how many times he said “I don’t remember” and watched in shock as he struggled to recall who was standing before him when the daughter of an old friend surprised him while being videotaped. 

Jacinda Russell, Vanishing Photograph: Me, 2017-2018 [imprinted digital negative on unprocessed silver gelatin paper]

My plan to create a contemporary version of his Vanishing Photographs shifted to objects in his archive that implied or overtly suggested absence. Evidence of his declining memory would redefine my series yet still comment on the shrinking role of analog practices.

Jacinda Russell, Robert Heinecken TV Still from 1975 and TV Stills from 1975 and 1995, 2017 - 2018 [archival pigment prints]

I approached the archive open to discovery, letting the objects dictate my direction, and the series grew to include three additional pieces. A diptych of stills from television screens references his cameraless photographs of newscasters from the 1980s. An image of his ashes printed as a positive and negative on transparency film sandwiched in Plexiglas is after Venus Mirrored (1968). Archive Remains is a photogram of a bottle containing the detritus that fell onto the white paper where I examined his possessions that the CCP staff allowed me to keep on my final day.

Jacinda Russell, Archive Remains, 2017 - 2018 [silver gelatin print]

I am captivated by the idea of legacy and mythology defined by the things left behind. This experience was life-changing and will undoubtedly be unveiled in a myriad of ways in the years to come.

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