Photo alum’s book reconsiders our interactions with screens

In FLAT PICTURES (YOU CAN FEEL), the collage of images that flash across video billboards and cell phone screens thousands of times a day are separated from their source and printed as individual photos. The new book by photography and film alumnus Will Douglas (BFA ’12), out now through independent publisher Ain’t Bad, takes moving Dior ads and lays each frame side-by-side. FLAT PICTURES recaptures footage of a bullfighter alone in an arena, and flattens a cluttered Paris storefront into a single image. The intention, Douglas says, is to ask the reader to spend more time with these pictures and reconsider how we interact with the big and small screens all around us.

Humble Arts Foundation invited Douglas to an interview recently, allowing him to discuss his ideas further.

Feinstein: So much of this is about deep “looking”. Of course, all photography is, but I see it as a dialog about how we use photography to create narratives about products, gender identity, consumption etc. Where’s your head and heart in this?

Douglas: It is very much about looking. Most of my work is rooted in ideas of perception. I think it’s vital that the book is handled and looked through with the notation of orientation. By the time you finish the book, you will have tuned the book 360 degrees. The rotation is intended to make people break from their traditional experience with a book and experience the images in various orientations brining an embodied or performative aspect to interacting with the book. The pictures themselves are focused on religion, relic, and ritual. The history of religious imagery, icons, and mass reproduction of painting has a tie to photography’s history. The inclusion of the stain glass window of Mary serves as a device to reference the projected image.

Feinstein: The press release for the book uses the following language: “….photographs made in response to the ways in which spontaneous screen-based collage influences and complicates our perception of the 3-dimensional world.” Break this down for me.

Douglas: I believe our reception of images is overloaded. Image overload isn’t news, But I think it’s important to consider how the free association of images build in the subconscious like a collage. For example, a news story of Trump interacting with the US Mexico border intersects with what your ex-boyfriend ate on Instagram. The intersection fuses the quotidian with the monumental in a way that complicates how we deal with violence as well. Unexpected violence is why I included splices of the bullfight as a foreshadow to the sequence of images in the end. We frequently return from our screens to three-dimensional space. We have to deal with depth and physical relationships. After hours of staring at a small glowing screen I have experienced a distorted perception of space. The compressed space of the computer screen fundamentally changes the way I interact with and conceive of the three-dimensional world.

Read the full interview at Humble Arts Foundation.

Get the book from Ain’t Bad.