These pics are simply gorgeous! To me, they are a perfect unreal aesthetic pleasure. Unreal? What was photographed is real! Right but that is not the way these photographs appear to me – the equivalent of McDonald’s ice cream: totally artificial, and tasting great!
Ian Volner, in his accompanying essay “Unreal City: The Urban Sublime of George Byrne,” explains that when Byrne returns from roaming the street to his computer “he then laboriously sifts through these sharp, contrast-heavy images, and choosing elements from various of them he starts to meddle, using photographic software to cut, paste, re-color, and generally monkey around.” No wonder his pics look unreal! That they should, as Volner claims, also disclose “a deeper truth about the cities we inhabit and how we inhabit them” I do however consider nonsense for by highlighting the surface you make any underlying depth (“a deeper truth”) insignificant.
George Byrne, born 1976 near Sydney, Australia, arrived in Los Angeles on September 23, 2010. “I remember looking out of the plane window and being taken aback by the scale of the urban sprawl, the vast tracts of shimmering, dusty pink-grey suburbia. Even from way up there, I thought it looked strangely beautiful. Later that same day, driving through the streets of L.A. for the first time, I was transfixed. There was so much light that the streetscapes seemed to become two-dimensional, angular cutouts. Shadows dissected the open space and figures occasionally floated by like ghosts. It felt free, wild, and open. Laid out in front of me in that moment, I saw what would go on to form both the basis of my artistic practice and the essence of this book.”
“Whoever it is,” writes Ian Volner, when referring to who took these pics, “they are certainly not a native of the place, since they seem to linger in certain quarters and pore over minutiae that Angelenos themselves would regard as only too essential, too echt Los Angeles.”
Had I not been told that I am looking at photographs of L.A. (not all of them – a few were taken in Miami, Palm Springs and some other places) I would have probably not known. As far as I’m concerned they could have been taken pretty much everywhere. But probably not for, after all, most were taken in L.A. (as seen by an outsider, who states): “The images are me, they are both my conscious and subconscious, they are my attempt to instill order in chaos, beauty in decay, and hope in a sometimes hopeless world.”
I must admit I’m somewhat at a loss to see how these images could instill order in chaos or offer hope for the sensations that they generate in me are of a different kind – I seem to almost intuitively know that this is not the real word, that this is a fantasy, that this is toyland. And, I love it!
Looking at photographs is personal, it will depend on a variety of factors – educational background, preferences, dislikes as well as moods – including one’s attitude. And, while for many years my interest was mostly in documentary photography (the story behind the picture), I’m nowadays much more focused on the surface, the composition, the framing.
It is George Byrne’s eye for framing that intrigues me; what he chose to put into the picture pleases my eyes. There’s a master-framer at work here!
And then there’s the light and the colours. Pure kitsch – and so real! Sunsets in the Southern Californian desert pop up in my head, colours so unreal that they couldn’t be true – but they were real! Similar sensations I experience when spending time with George Byrne’s excellent Post Truth that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. There is only one reservation that I have and it concerns the title – I regard it as uninspired, misleading, and wrong.
by George Byrne
forward by Ian Volner
Also published on Medium.