Figures and faces in motion, at speed, or otherwise in disintegration, their expressions always clearly visible; foremost the eyes, emerging from the trails of movement; often darkly ambiguous, sad perhaps, or fearful; the protagonists of the photographic works of Gregory Thine (f.k.a Rebus) seem lost within their time or imprisoned by the relentless flow that surrounds them: A trombonists' instrument is shattered, plummeting in a nosedive, like a plane shot down in flames, the player’s face reduced to a ghostly death mask; elsewhere, figures appear gathered around a family table where what seems to be the elder head is attempting to stand up, leaning on his cane - the mood is of ritual tragedy; in another work, a saxophone player glistens in improbable absurd colours, his face overexposed to the point of blowing out all lineaments, leaving only the smudges of the Shroud of Turin (as alluded to by the title) or perhaps those of the wall paintings of some primordial cave. At times one senses the more technical or formal enquiry of a photographer in his more conventional role, yet from each image there transpires a far more ambitious communicative aim, perceivable not only in subjects and titles but from the mixture of pictorial-like digital manipulation with more traditional approaches. The prints are carried out on the most varied of materials, from etching and watercolour papers to baryta photographic. (adapted from the Soundings exhibition brochure)
Somewhat inevitable, perhaps, to find as a starting point that typically modern sense of existential and intellectual estrangement; yet juxtaposed to this, and with no small sense of uncertainty and risk, a kind of desperate reaffirmation of immediacy and fundamental human values or -- better -- those of sentient beings; as if by magic or sheer practical utilitarian necessity: The bonds of loved ones, compassion, religion even as a lingering doubt or a nagging innate sense on the part the most atheistic and secular. Sources for these reflections are chiefly: the animal kingdom (of which, we are plainly all too much a part of), the religious iconography (especially the more primitive and totemic: wood carvings, icons etc.), musicians in their role of shamanic go-betweens, lightning rods for our suffering. An attempt is therefore enacted, at side-skirting and moving beyond the more sterile of prevalent contemporary dialectic modes: as much the privileged and scientific observational view point, enumerator of neurons atoms and bits, as the solipsistic refuge, as the aesthetic gamesmanship.
Indeed, such a direct - at times lyrical, vein might well be construed as traditionalism by the less attentive, inclined as we are, nowadays, to take for granted the current penchant for aggressive formal upheavals and an ever more lateral or conceptual expressive idiom. However, at a more skilled and forward-looking reading and from the very titles on there may emerge -- such is hope -- an artistic intent that is, in fact, clearly contemporary and clearly resolute, cognisant of both current and passed sensitivities, but consciously set on reviving the cathartic role of the medium and certifying both its sense and survival, with a marked emphasis on instinctive and less conceptual narrative content, and a visual innovativeness that is, above all, natural. True it is that the modern viewer is often anxious to get to the point or to see reflected her own complexity, or, moreover, he has sometimes boarded the train already in motion, and not at the station, but she is equally, more than ever in need of a new poignancy that goes beyond the trite defeatism and detachment of the relativist mindset, the egocentricity, the tiresome newness at any cost: increasingly lamented determinants of a deafening self-referentiality in contemporary artistic discourse.
The impulse for embarking on these new transfigurations, expressionisms, romanticisms, is plainly instinctive, yet finds programmatic correspondences, in a view that is anything but new and is the subject of increasingly restless murmurs from various quarters: namely that the outright negation of the concept of transcendence, and similarly a distrust of any shared reality and values, are the basis for the practical impoverishment of modern life, and in turn also of artistic discourse; the inevitable point of arrival of a civilization, that for all its heights of achievement, is more or less insidiously and imperceptibly pervaded by a background noise of bite-sized notions, that, in a more appropriate learned context, might well have a certain intellectual relevance, maybe even accompanied by an evaluation as to the sense in their practical application, but instead reach us awkwardly detached from their original academic mainspring: relativism, individualism, the easy and amateurish mechanicalism inherent in consumer culture, the notion that every altruistic act has selfish implications and so on and so forth. Notions that, in such a format at least, can be easily unmasked, by more adept thinkers, as the foolish intelligence of beings grown far too complex for their own good. Who, other than experts in the field, might be in a position to ask why rational luminaries such as Wittgenstein, whose enquiries actually centred on the limits of knowledge itself, had in the practicality of life as lived, a deep respect and attraction for the religious or transcendent sphere, whatever the clear impossibility of any valid role for it in an epistemological framework?
Formally, the digital medium is here a means to bridge the gap between photography and painting or etching, at least as far as the strictly visual effect is concerned, drawing freely from the sensitivities of all such disciplines. As mentioned earlier, the inquiries aim for an innovativeness that is unforced and employ an array of visual tropes, both contemporary and revisited, but above all at ease with the possibilities of the digital method, without any claim or obsession with technical prowess at digital manipulation. It is evident how certain expressive approaches are favoured, but with no intent to evolve a specific and recognisable style, which at times emerges and at times dissolves. The prints are executed with much care on a wide variety of photographic and traditional paper materials. (Adaptation from 2012 digital brochure)
IN WORDS - A STATEMENT OF MAYBE
In a world such as that we appear to live in, the very act of expression can be said to require an element of faith that communication has some form of inherent value, that there is a point in saying what is being said. Under a daily barrage of sound bites or pared down to our own proverbial fifteen minutes — if that, it is not only the result of more sombre enquiries if some of us no longer possess just such a faith instinctively; it is enough to realise that our intended audience now hunger — consciously or not — more than anything else, for silence.
The way out of such a labyrinth — or let’s say the only constructive way, is to mark one’s path and follow the piece of string. It is of little importance if all the signs we leave are sure to be washed away, there is an inscrutable purpose at the heart of all things, which cannot and need not be fathomed and so it is with the need to create objects, signs and votive offerings, they are no different from the need to seek the warmth of a fire in winter.
This simple understanding informs all my work, including that which is purely or mostly aesthetic or technical. First and foremost, I believe in my intended recipient’s existence and that of myself and what is more that a bridge of some kind may be built, and still, that if I can amuse him he may well throw me a bone. Equally, any suspicion that the viewer or potential recipient is by now entirely out of reach, locked in a lonely tête a tête with the mass-medium that has shaped him is plainly futile. After all I am his servant and not vice versa.
More than a stark or complicated intellectual enquiry, an artistic endeavour should be conceived as a simple and vital communicative need, whether to enlighten or just to make one feel less alone. It is my feeling that the viewer is ultimately more satisfied — some might say she deludes herself so, which in practice equates to the same thing —by a message which is infused with an intended solemnity or religiosity, or that at the very least takes itself seriously as an attempt to establish some kind of a connection no matter how improbable it may sometimes seem. Perhaps the intent is even more important than the result: A sense of craft no matter how successful, of a struggle, of an enquiry, that are embodied in a resulting object, are, in the end more rewarding than any purely mental concept, ever larger spectacle, or wholly instinctive divertissement.
Hopefully these considerations will not be construed as advocating a naïve or naïf retreat into a cosy pre-Pandora's box, but simply as a reaffirmation of an aim, of attempting to testify, with all the uncertainty it implies, a more instinctive sense of common destiny with the recipient, the drama or delight of whose existence is little changed by our graphical signs, theoretical allusions, and conceptual meanderings, and is first and foremost concerned with all that our needs must: to eat, breath, fall in love, compete, find shelter, fight or flight and all that other stuff that is more the essence of being human and that more than ever needs to be positively affirmed at the risk of seeming somewhat romantic or antiquated, as a kind of way forward. There is nothing quite so programmatic intended and neither does any of it stand up to much scrutiny, but what does really?
My starting point is just as much routed in the understanding that the majority of our artistic endeavours can easily be seen as little more than an insult to our forefathers who worked the land until their fingers bled, unknowingly, so that we might attain these heights of understanding and then, with all the objectivity of self-proclaimed deities, demolish all that they believed in and instinctively held dear. There is little to be done to avoid this, and nor would there be any point in doing so, but by simply bearing it in mind, one may be more likely to be reaching out than surrendering to self-absorption, even — paradoxically — where attempting to explore the darkest solipsisms or while finding temporary solace in frivolity.
An inevitable consequence of the relativistic paradigm, by now the very bosom that nurtures us, is that we take both frivolity and solemnity of intent and place them in the same space both in our temples of art and in our consciousness, in much the same way that a trite advertising break inevitably follows the most intense of emotive depictions. The corner into which many appear to be painted, is that they often no longer feel able to form a selective hierarchy, to attach a value or even hold a strong view on one work versus another; nor do we expect any particular sense of seriousness of finality, even where present. It is enough to attach a theory or school to it or a rational concept, the art system will then certify what is worth our time viewing, and the result is that we become a herd ofart consumers, who seem tofollow and propagate the same set of underlying notions, usually arrived at unquestioningly and not achieved through a journey, with the added convenience of a lack of any boundaries, no matter how subjective, between fashion, spectacle and whatever else springs to mind. All that has been explored since straying from the more traditional understandings, likely needed to be explored and has its place and value, expanding confines that needed to be expanded, however only there where we can detect a passionate sense of purpose will it ultimately have a lasting effect on us. I am by no means the first to put forward these views, nor will I be the last, but this is where I stand and many with me.
There have been some very valuable lessons to be taken from the twentieth century artistic dialectic and foremost, perhaps, the importance of mind over matter. The less fortunate other side of that coin has seen the notions of both craft and solemnity much devalued — at least in the pure art milieu — when in fact what is likely to turn out more resonant in the long run is not a lack of rules or any sense of the sacred, but a basic proficiency in those rules, enough to break them convincingly, and a sense of humility and enquiry with regard to all the many unanswered questions.
I will bow out here, though I have done my best to explain some of the understandings that form my approach, I recognise that others are far more adept at the theory; save to say that where they are most successful, any works of mine that have any artistic pretension, yield little when approached seeking a clever solution to a mental puzzle, even there where they may employ conceptual artifices. The most critical ingredient is as always the recipient’s active imagination. If you are fortunate to have this perfectly intact, I salute you, otherwise you should strive, as I do daily with some success, to acquire it by building on the ashes of a nobbled passivity bequeathed to us by our media-afflicted environment.
As I write, it is nigh on twenty years since those — first of many — long days and nights in the darkroom. Having strayed into other forms, I have always returned here, yet it is only in more recent years that I have found just such a tentative faith in the essential role of the medium from whence to find a more public voice, the results of which are here in part displayed. In that space of time, photography itself has undergone a sea change in the shape of the digital revolution and, though weary at first, I too have been pleased to recognise and then embrace the challenge of these new techniques and advances.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the digital methodology is the enhanced capability for real-time experimentation and this is the aspect that I try most to take advantage of and incorporate where appropriate. Technical proficiency is just as critical in the digital domain as ever previously, however the new techniques tie in very well with what are some of the more fruitful aspects of contemporary artistic sensibility, namely continuous flexibility and experimentation.
It is an interesting time to live photography and I am glad that after all these years there is still constantly something new to learn: about the art, about myself and about others. Clearly not aiming to be the most dutiful or accomplished technician, I am firstly striving to bring together a variety of expressive approaches and experiences. Just as I can at times become obsessed with purely optical elements, on other occasions I care little even for the most obvious of pixilation, chromatic aberrations and the like; I am here journeying into the more traditional and there into the more experimental. Having learned a new technique I will then be trying to unlearn it, just as I will happily put aside Leicas and Nikons and spend time with a digicam, or to scan a scan of a print, all the time attempting to walk a fine line between the self-conscious and the self-absorbed.
In the end, I suppose, my one simple desire is to create objects that somehow, for a brief moment, say something more than the elemental particles they are composed of — in itself a feat. Others are best placed to tell if I have succeeded in my objectives.
No sooner had he written it, than he tore it up.
soundings (2008) - BROCHURE
Musicians are, in my perception, pre-eminently tragic figures and
the noises that emit from their instruments or mouths very much an
attempt at self-exorcism, an outpouring of suffering; the listener's
participation being none other a form of commiseration, or an equal
attempt at catharsis. This is perhaps a way to explain an enduring
fascination, and why the moment I am often trying to capture and
portray is that in which the player, more than a high priest in a
time-honoured ritual, is something of a beast awaiting slaughter or a
condemned man singing a final cacophony that might save his life. There
is also usually the opportunity afforded to develop concurrently a
secondary theme, or perhaps one might call it a method, equally of great
interest to me, namely that of motion or flux, which here is a means of
grasping at a kind truth: one can hope to glimpse in certain moments,
not only a sense of immediate consciousness or of memory, but also
something of a final unavoidable brick wall and, mostly through
luck, a subject's fear of it. A pictorial sensitivity bequeathed to us by
twentieth century artistic movements, in particular, but not only, the
futurist adventure, on which photography expands so effortlessly, can well be
deliberately explored with a century-on pessimism and countered with an
equal and opposite lack of faith in progress as a value or ideology.
The above are some conclusions I draw about the
results presented here, so as to give a starting point to those who
desire it, however there is nothing quite so programmatic; I proceed to the
greatest extent possible by instinct in the hope that the risk will add
to the final outcome. In the end the themes rightly correspond to my
obsessions, and are therefore manifold: In common with others,
they can likely be summed up adequately as an investigation of the
human experience both in its unchanging aspects and as a reflection of
the contemporary. The existential overtones here and there are perhaps
unavoidable at this moment in time, however, hopefully as no more than a
natural and intuitive consequence of an affinity and compassion for my
fellow wayfarers. Having chosen to bring these works into being
and to your attention, I strive to respect both the recipient, whose
existence I believe in religiously on my good days; on my bad days I make no other claim as for a motive except the instinct to build a bridge as a very human act,
even with the uncertainty of anything on the other side.
The photographic works of Gregory Thine (formerly known as Rebus, an internet nickname), are the subject of increasing attention in recent years. Recognition includes an Honourable Mention at the International Photography Awards 2009 (Los Angeles), three more in the following year (IPA 2010) and another in 2011 (IPA 2011), as well as six Official Selections at the Prix de Paris de la Photographie 2011. The solo exhibition Soundings (2008) was also well received. Born in Oxford, England, he grew up in the city of Vicenza, in Italy. Earliest endeavours and formal studies in the field of photography date back to 1988, mainly in 35mm black and white, including development and printing (Leica M2 / Durst M605), but also extending into cibachrome. Wary of the digital revolution at first, by 2001 he had moved to adopting the hybrid analogue-digital approach involving drum scanning of slides and negatives, finally making the full transition to digital relatively late, in 2006.