Sean Justice

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Midtown, New York (1 breath), 2011

pigment ink on archival paper, Dimensions Variable

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The Breathing Pictures project explores the experience of the here and now. ¶When I look at a photograph I ask, Can I feel myself breathing? When I teach photography the question evolves, Can we take pictures that connect us to right now? This is the root of the project. ¶These pictures are made from multiple yet discrete camera exposures (i.e, not time exposures) taken from an entire scene (i.e., not fragments of a scene). The component images are taken while I am standing still — on a street corner, at an airport, by a lake —and photographing while breathing — one breath, two breaths. ¶The final photograph is constructed by aligning the individual frames on a single feature, such as a stationary person or an architectural detail, and then blending the frames into each other. As a result, the pictures almost but not quite collapse into traditional scenic images — almost, because some features are aligned; but not quite, because the flutter of my breathing combines with movement within the scene to create fragments and moments of misalignment. ¶The visual effect is that the picture first seems to be a normal photograph taken from the world, but then it almost immediately dissolves into a construction of its component frames. ¶I’m not interested in pictorial sleight-of-hand; the montage technique I’m using is basic to the contemporary photographic process. It’s far simpler, in fact, than a lot of compositing being done today — i.e., I’m not using any elaborate, computer generated effects. Instead the process is simple, as simple as possible, so that the illusion that occurs in the viewer’s mind feels simple, too. ¶On the other hand, I am interested in the experience of perception — that is, I want to draw out the brief moment of wakefulness that occurs when I notice and am truly present in the world. In that brief instant there’s a thorough overlap of multiple ways of being conscious. I'm not referring to an esoteric mysticism — rather, I’m talking about the moment of breathing, that continuous, involuntary, drawing in of the world: the ephemeral, always-just-ending, always-just-beginning, act of living. And, I’m talking about being aware of that act. ¶But this moment of willful wakefulness is hard to sustain. Usually, it’s incredibly brief, if it occurs at all. Normally, of course, we walk through the world without fully feeling it, without fully acknowledging our place within in. ¶If these pictures succeed, I hope that viewers briefly see themselves seeing the world (or, a picture of the world). And that, in that moment of participatory relationality, as the unified scene in front of them dissolves, they sense that their own act of perception created the scene in the first place. This would be the overlap of awareness I’m talking about — the moment when perception turns back on itself; the moment when we feel ourselves rooted in the here and now of the world. ¶

Artworks by Sean Justice

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