By Douglas Stockdale
Charles Grogg’s first self-published photobook After Ascension and Descent is a series of photographs that poses questions and subsequently elicits a narrative about connections. Frequently Grogg manipulates his Black and White photographs; whereas digital photographers may have manipulated and altered the content, Grogg will actually alter the surface of the physical photographic print. What is most discernible in the photobook’s printing are the dark, white and red threads and strings that he has sewn onto the prints' surfaces.
When I initially viewed Grogg’s photographs, I immediately recalled the photographic work of Olivia Parker, especially her Four Pears (1979), probably one of the more intriguing photographs for me from her early work. There is a subtle sense of mystery within Parker’s compositions akin to what I similarly experience with Grogg’s photographs.
There are three motifs within this body of work, the multi-paneled prints of small potted trees, the simulation of the connections with natural and artificial objects, and the sewed prints with the visible threads. Of the three, the sewn prints provide a slight three dimensionality even when presented in this photobook. The threads appear to be lying on the surface of the print which relies on our memory of the print’s flat plane and the three dimensionality of the thread.
The thread’s emphasis appears on the prints to be slightly overstated but further strengthens the intended questions and narrative. The thread is a strange disruption to the surface of the print, piercing and breaking through the medium, leaving also small holes as it interrupts the traditional reading of the photograph. Likewise, the implied personal connections work in a similar way, depending on our cultural and social norms, of interceding and interconnecting us with others, sometimes leaving small bruises and altering our way of perceiving reality.
In one pair of photographs, the unraveling and destruction of a baseball results when the threads holding the ball’s exterior surface together are broken. The resulting mayhem can be read as a metaphor for what happens to relationships when there is a breakdown in personal connections. When there is a breakdown in the relationship, things do seem to unravel and at the end, it can be a complete destruction. This pair of photographs is in direct contrast to the other photographs, where Grogg attempts to establish a symbolic connection, now expanding the narrative to be inclusive of negative consequences to maintaining personal connections. Similar to Edward Weston’s green pepper, one photograph of the frayed and flayed open baseball has very overt sexual overtones, bordering on being graphic and sexually explicit. Intended or not.
The photograph of the arm with the taped on wire taped, which is connected to the older style phone laying at the bottom of the frame perhaps borders on a metaphoric cliché, it does ring true. What perhaps saves this photograph is the presence of the small plant sitting on a ledge on the edge of the frame, raising questions as to its relevance and reason for inclusion and possible meanings.
Grogg states this about the underlying context for this body of work; “Over time, I was surprised how nature seemed to copy my ideas (doesn’t naiveté have an important place in making art?), how wires, tethers, ropes, strings, conduits all appear whenever there is something important near; a house receiving its utilities, a sapling projected from the wind, cattle grazing at a fence. I knew I must be tethered too, as well as all the people I care about and even those I don’t know. We are engaged and prevented at the same moment, kept for and kept against, united and divided all at once.
Catherine Courturier in her introductory essay adds; “On closer inspection, I have come to believe that After Ascension and Descent is not so much of the pain of the ties that bind, but about the hope that we can be free, through our thoughts and through art, in spite of those tethers.
Grogg adds another dimension to this body of work by revealing the intricate weaving of the treads that are concealed on the back of the print. By revealing what is normally concealed behind the print on facing pages of the photobook’s spread, he suggests another layer of complexity to his creations. By revealing these concealed threads, he also implies that there are usually unseen connections that are occurring behind the scenes, difficult to observe and perhaps understand. That what is on the surface is only part of the equation about relationships and connections.
The abstract pattern of the lines on the reverse is an artifact of the consequence of the designed pattern on the print’s surface, thus a random pattern but as Grogg realizes, interesting in and of themselves, and harkens back to automatic drawing of the Dadaists. The abstract labyrinths of graphic lines created where the threads were stitched on the front are an indirect and random result due to the intended effects on the front of the print. Again, suggesting that what we may observe of the connections in life may seem well-defined and in control, but there may be actual chaos behind these orderly appearances.
This photobook is self published with stiff-covers by Charles Grogg, in a first edition of 100 copies, and the introductory essays are provided by Crista Ward Dix and Catherine Courturier, with an Afterword by Charles Grogg.