Karen Zalamea | Spectres of Desire

It would seem that most of the exhibitions I am hitting during this year’s Capture Photography Festival seem to be all about abstract work. We really don’t have so many photography exhibitions in my city that when this annual festival rolls around I land up just going to everything within a certain radius on a weekend.

Karen Zalamea is a Vancouver artist and much of her work is done with a large format camera using analogue processes. This particular exhibition was about the intersection of light and form. Zalamea uses a variety of materials that interact with light, e.g. reflections, refractions or amplification and arranges these in a controlled setting in her studio so that with the combination of the light source, material and camera lens, these combine into an array of rich colour, moire or prismatic patterns. Some of the resulting photographs look as if they could be photographs of outer space.

The resulting photographs are without reference to a per-existing image world: as artifacts of photographic events, performed by and for the camera, they are not “abstractions” but rather concretions of the pictorial possibilities within photography.

Franc Gallery

Spectres of Desire by Karen Zalamea
Spectres of Desire by Karen Zalamea

In a statement very reminiscent of Barthes (and semiotician C. S. Peirce) the gallery blurb states: ‘the photograph is inevitably “haunted” by its referent, and is thus a marker of absence.’ It is interesting that it is the play of light itself upon a surface that is photographed and recorded and not the intersecting object. This illusory spectre changes with each intersecting medium and gives rise to a totally different interpretation of light each time. Some of the images, such as the one above, make me think of water. There is an undulating current and elusiveness present in the image above – a sense of mystery if you will.

Spectres of Desire by Karen Zalamea
Spectres of Desire by Karen Zalamea

The following image (above) has a blurry moire pattern in red and black tones. Horizontal and vertical lines intersect with much frequency, almost as if they are at odds with each other, fighting for space within the frame. The image feels angry and invasive, like a migraine coming on, but yet it has a strange, compelling beauty to it at the same time.

Seeing the variety of these dialogues of light on surfaces was quite an eye-opener for me. The depth of the patterns and colours are rather astounding and totally unexpected. The take away from this exhibition was really just go and experiment, using a variety of surfaces and see what happens. I just wish I had my DSLR with me to take better photos rather than my covert little point and shoot camera which I tend to sneak into the galleries.

Reference List

Phillips, Kimberley (2016). Karen Zalamea | Spectres of Desire. Vancouver: Franc Gallery.

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