From Post-Photography: The Unknown Image

by Robert Shore, Elephant, Winter 2013

"After a while the concern for just the surface of things started to unsettle me"

Fracturing and suturing are at the heart of Charles Grogg's Reconstructions, a series of extremely tactile image fragments printed on Japanese gampi paper and stitched together with thread. "There is no such thing as the experience of a continuous landscape," explains the Southern California-based artist. "Get in the middle of it, and there's too much to keep track of. Pull away, and the details begin to disappear....This is true with photographs, too, of course, because they at once make a site of consciousness and block out the periphery. When we look at a photograph, we come up with stories, some of which may be true, many of which involve some degree of fictive projection. But we never get 'the whole picture' because the frame cannot include everything. My aim was to expose each piece of the reconstructions one at a time when I printed them so that the image would no longer seem quite as continuous. The lack of wholeness is unsettling on some level and satisfying because it comes off as real. Yet being that my attitude was not to destroy anything, I tried out ways to put the picture, the landscape, the world back together using push-pins, darts, tape, staples, glue and also thread. I liked the feel and the motion of the needle piercing the image surface, so I settled on sewing with cotton thread. It's a game in some ways, an approximation of how I would guess my own consciousness works to make a complete picture of an object. To most of us, the world is not whole. It's broken, and we each put it together as we need it to be for us."

"Though I began photography with a concern for the surface of things," Grogg explains, "the work I do tends over time to violate surfaces and to look for underlying structures that house the power for reminding us of our interconnectedness and our mortality." For the After Ascension series, instead of gampi he used gelatin silver, "which meant printing in the dark again, itself a mysterious and thrilling process. That practical regard led me to think about what the gelatin silver print was doing to my images, and that’'s when I began to sew through them and smear them with mud and wax and other materials. It's that damned perfect surface again, which I rejected, that forced me to look elsewhere for the essence of the image. I needed that tension in the surface of the image to bring through the pleasure and horror of the secondary hand, the second thought."

Tethering is a recurrent motif in Grogg's work. "I tend to think of addenda to photographic images as dangerous territory. It'’s really easy to overdo it. I use stitching as an overt attempt at control, which seems to me absurd and also beautiful, so I have not yet reached the point that I would say I have done too much to the image, but that time will come."