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Salt n Pepper Press

Absent Air

Dan Commons


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After seeing a video of the musician John Maus speak about his musical influences and some of the practical musical techniques that he implements, I experienced a lightbulb moment that allowed me to fully understand why Commons has developed his photographic practice around analogue processes and materials. Let me digress a little and further explain: Maus is known for using a range of modular synthesisers, a relic of the analogue music world; but the question fell on my lap as to why he was building his own synthesisers and using these archaic techniques within his practice, as any digital audio workstation could be used to re-create similar sounds without the trouble of building what is essential an instrument. Maus went on to say that he felt these materials spoke to him and therefore he wanted to use them to express the current moment. He does not utilise them in a hauntological sense, even though this maybe culturally part of the reason why, but rather as a means to discuss the present. This is when Commons’ work comes into mind and begins to abridge my thinking as to why he has created these expressive images that appear fragmentary and illusive through analogue technologies. It seems that his approach has got much to do with the aesthetic history that he clearly works in; the Provoke aesthetic is by nature politically charged and resists normative forms of interpretation. Commons’ work should be looked at as a continuation of the persistent questioning and tension within the Provoke aesthetic, and seen as not only a personal reflection upon the external world, but also as a work that taps into external cultural forces that define the English political landscape.

At first glance the work does not intend to be directly political, rather its aesthetic history is tied up within a philosophical model of photography: it is defined by a series of camera interventions created to resist larger capitalist forces that young people were reacting against during post war Japan.This aesthetic within contemporary photographic practices has been operationalised for several artistic purposes, usually for the sole goal of “personal expression”. However, it seems that these artists are missing the original purpose of this aesthetic: the Provoke intention is something that is combative towards thought and language, and thus is not about self-expression, but is rather a struggle to locate and pin down the self within contemporary society. With this in mind, Commons’ work can be easily misunderstood as simply some type of vaporwave nod to photographic nostalgia. Nevertheless, upon close inspection Commons is working within this aesthetic and clearly understands how to borrow from this tradition, adding to it from his English sensibilities that are evident from his vast range of contextually relevant subject matters. In terms of the nature of the work, as previously mentioned, it is not outwardly political, rather it expresses something that hits a current nerve of uncertainty within the UK that has been building up over the past four years, and now feels even more dire due to the pandemic exacerbating all of these symptoms.

Edition of 100
Printed on 120gsm Peregrina Majestic Real Silver
Soft Cover with black band binding
72 pages 
148 × 210mm

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