When you look at Charlie Rubin’s new book, Strange Paradise, you realize that the title is really perfect. While the images are striking and lush, full of interesting and beautiful visual flora and fauna, they have a sense of weirdness and unease. It’s the kind of imagery that requires time and pondering to notice all the nuances and cleverness going on behind the scenes. Charlie creates photographs and then takes them back to his studio, altering them in sometimes conspicuous, sometime subtle ways, giving the images an exciting and confounding physicality and confusing our assumptions about what a photograph is. The launching of Strange Paradise, which is out now on Conveyor Editions, will be celebrated tomorrow (4/10) at Printed Matter (complete with a custom window display by Charlie), and everyone should come.
Christian: Do you see yourself as a pure photographer in the classic sense, or something else? Your work, while very rooted in photography as a base, has obvious elements and layers of sculpture and painting.
Charlie Rubin: I guess I always start with a classic photograph and then build off of it if it feels right, so it’s a mixture of pure and something else. Recently though, I’ve been leaning toward the something else. Even though my work uses painting, collage and sculpture, I still see the final image as a photograph. I also include straight, unaltered, photographs in series and have side documentary or portrait projects. The medium is transforming fast, and it’s made me transform as an artist- a reaction to the utilitarian nature of it and how anyone can take a beautiful photograph these days. It happened naturally for me; I got bored with a lot of my own imagery because I didn’t find anything unique about it anymore, so I needed to find out how to bring meaning back in to my images.
My little sister showed me this app on her phone the other day where you can add light leaks and dust particles to your iPhone photos and I’m like, “Whoa, someone is turning in their grave.” My work is a reaction to these things, to the yearning for physicality, for something real and non-screen.
Tell me about how you came upon your process of moving the digital back into a physical realm. Did you have an “A Ha!” moment when you discovered a way to make something new with your photographs?
Like I said, it was a response to the feeling that my pictures were losing meaning. I could take the most awesome picture of a sunset with five rainbows and plants and beautiful people in front of it, but it just didn’t matter because I could open up my laptop and find five images just like it. I had to work with the medium and figure out how to convey my frustration and conceptualize this change in the visual cultural landscape surrounding me. It’s also a fantasy or escape from the monotony of imagery I was seeing and making.
At first I experimented with ink on my photos, influenced by graffiti and other mark-making techniques, and highlighting what I found important in the photo. I made a breakthrough some years later when I used inkjet ink on an inkjet print and everything came together.