|T H E E Y E W I T H I N - S I M O N M A X W E L L|
A Venturing into the Labyrinth - a seeker's guide to Pixiport
por·tal pronunciation key (pôr tl, p r -)
Entering the Labyrinth I came across Pixiport indirectly when I typed "black and white photography" into Google. Among the results was Subr Chaterjee's entrancing work. Working back from that I discovered the black and white gallery and by extension Pixiport's home page. Ever since, I have been captivated by the site's rich and varied imagery, collated by Helyn.
There's no doubt that one's first time visit to Pixiport can be a little overwhelming; I can't think of any other site quite like it! There are so many areas to explore, so many portals to still more portals, that it can feel a bit like being in a labyrinth. This is not an uncomfortable feeling though; to discover Pixiport (although I maintain that it discovered me!) is to pass through its doorway with a willingness to expect the unexpected.You will get this feeling every time you look at it, wherever you are, either at home on a laptop, at work or browsing on mobile phones. As the dark toned pages give up their luminous gifts, one feels one is passing through portals to some really visionary art work.
My mansion has many rooms
What I appreciate most about Pixiport is the way that it can encompass with such ease and harmony so many widely varying styles and approaches to photographic image making. I was looking through Helyn's recommended new work pages last night and although one moment I was looking at the elegantly austere monochrome images of a documentary photographer and the next a subtle study in abstracted colour, this apparent disparity did not matter. Because the message that sang out from every one of these images was vision. It was as though each artist had, like Theseus, gone deeply into the "labyrinth" of their creative process, in order to penetrate their subject totally and return with the prize of a vision realised in communicable form.
I love that word "portal"; when we select an artist's work we are not simply clicking on a link to a Gallery- we are drawing back the curtain of that artist's window onto a transformed reality, a chance to spend a few minutes or many cumulative hours in the presence of their vision. These portals are windows into other worlds plus the world we think we know transformed.
I feel that there are two approaches to discovering photographic vision; and Pixiport thankfully accords equal exposure to artists working in either of these ways:
From the known to the unknown
The first type of photo-artist seeks to create something that simply wasn't there before. This can be achieved by means of image combination, subtle layering of textures and other effects. Such artists use straight photographic subjects as a departure point. Some reassemble and remould these records either in the darkroom or on the computer to communicate their inner vision. The resulting images invite us to explore surreal worlds; they speak in symbols, urging us to interpret their meaning with words. Others manage to tap into a more abstract realm which asks simply that we by-pass the intellect and allow ourselves to be absorbed in its emotive impact. Gazing into Bob Snell's extraordinary symmetrical cosmic compositions or Corrie Ancone's poetically surreal assemblages feels like an encounter with the world of dreams, a complex dimension of signs and symbols whose meaning one is challenged to intuit and perhaps decipher, while the ethereal abstract colour landscapes of Dubi Roman, produced entirely in camera by means of multiple exposures, exert a less overt, more subtly intoxicating appeal which calls to our senses rather than our intellect. All three artists are visionary, shamans who present other dimensions and perceptions; each of them has made the journey into the unknown on our behalf and brought back these altered realities for our reflection.
From the everyday to the extraordinary
The other type of photographic artist sets out to work within an apparently narrower parameter; he or she is content to confine themselves to so-called reality. I say so-called because this often painstakingly technical approach can actually lead to a transformation of the mundane subject matter, so that, ironically, a preoccupation with the real succeeds in becoming surreal. Simple objects can become expressions of far more meaningful concepts when envisioned by such a photographer.
Subr Chatterjee's work will illustrate this better than I can ever articulate it, as will the haunting visions of Charlie Schreiner's Daguerreotypes. Even an apparently straight documentary shot in the right hands can become iconic and suggestive of so much more than the immediate image content; while such photography seems to be reductionist, it actually succeeds in amplifying its subject in ways which expand our perceptions of it.
Look at Rey Lopez's work: under the banner of "street photography" his unnerving close-ups of shop mannequins and other found still lives make us take a second look at what we thought was real. Equally, Judah S. Harris's images of street life are far more than reportage; his carefully crafted compositions and deeply sympathetic portraits raise his work from the status of records to universally pertinent images, that speak of the human condition irrespective of a particular time and space.
Photography can do this. Or rather a photographer with vision can see beyond the subject matter to what the image can become; even realist subjects can become dream- like. Don't tell me that the technically impeccable images of Monte Nagler, rooted in close observation of the scene, do not also succeed in touching some transcendent dimension.
Transcendence: the goal of any artist
Both of these approaches are valid and both succeed in opening our eyes; the former to what was hitherto invisible and is now "born" into conscious awareness, and the latter to what was there to see but failed to be perceived until that photographer succeeded in revealing it. While the first uses reality as a departure point, the second remains tightly tethered to it. Both approaches, however, succeed in transcending so-called consensus reality. But it is only when the photographer has gone into the darkness of their unconscious, the necessary state of unknowingness that precedes creative insight, that they can effect this transformation.
Making the descent
So in a sense, we are all Theseuses searching the labyrinths of our unconscious when we attempt to create. We are all shamans looking to what lies beyond or within the flimsily recorded vision of things which our minds carry around. It takes a photographer with a visionary eye to distill that meaning or essence from the usual visual paraphernalia that passes though our retina. Whether we use reality as a springboard to something "other", or as our sole subject, the quest remains curiously similar; our task is to probe ever more deeply into the subject of our enquiry. I feel that all Pixiport artists are here because they share that determination to pursue this creative search.
I feel there is a mythological undercurrent to Pixiport; there is certainly something very magical about the process of uncovering its many layers. The Queen of the Pixies seems to be presiding over this realm of imagification; as I press each link the pixels disperse and reassemble like the sands in a kaleidoscope, to reveal a new picture. Every time I come here it's like an adventure; either I am discovering the vision of a new artist or I am attempting to relate to the visions of those artists that I have visited before more deeply.
Finding the thread
There's no simple route map with which to navigate Pixiport, no conveniently linear path with landmarks which we can simply tick off. We have to tread our way more intuitively, following our impulses on the day. Sometimes I will go down a particular avenue, such as the abstract art gallery, and then retrace my steps. Other times there will be a link from one area to a totally new field; these "quantum leaps" are all part of a less structured and more fluid approach to surfing that we need to employ to ensure that we encounter what we do not think we already know.
Theseus unravelled the golden thread provided by Ariadne to help find his way through the labyrinth; it was symbolic of the light of his consciousness, itself enlightened by the faculty of his intuition as personified by Ariadne. Perhaps the common thread behind the many artists that we can encounter on this site is Helyn's discriminating eye; we know that she has chosen each one with care and that they are here by design. There is a subtle logic to the site's construction, and an underlying order to the labyrinth. But we need to work to find our own passage through it, to brave its engulfing presence and to discover its rich secrets.
Your route through this domain will be markedly different from mine; your Pixiport will not be the same as my Pixiport, and long may that continue to be the case. While the territory of Pixiport remains identical for both of us, the maps that we assemble will differ, based on the "threads" we choose to unravel.
The journey is an adventure. And it is always inspiring.
P.S. An earlier version of this article gave the impression that Dubi Roman's impressionistic colour images were achieved by digital means, associating him with the term "digital photo-artist". The author would like to make it clear that Dubi Roman's images are in fact all created entirely by traditional photographic camera controls, as made clear on the technical information section of his website http://www.dubiroman.com , and very much regrets that the first article was misleading in this respect.