Colin Carney: Representing Time


A photograph often documents a single event, representing one moment in time. Colin Carney’s compositions augment the perception and experience derived from an image through his unique enhancements of photographic art.

Carney’s images feature stacked exposures that compress multiple instances and vantage points. An adherence to his distinctive process and selection of subject matter create opportunities for honest expression and new meaning from familiar sources.

Although Carney says that he “dabbled in photography over the years,” he first recognized photography as a primary medium through which he could fully express himself while he was in graduate school at the University of Waterloo. Carney was working with video at the time, analyzing multiple images and looping sequences, and this experience compelled him to re-evaluate the visual representation of time, space, and movement. He further developed his aesthetic by comparing these physical perceptual layers to lithographic plates.

Initially, Carney worked in black and white, stating that he wasn’t yet ready for colour in the early stages of his photographic work: “Black and white photography was a good place to begin, but making photos that seem to evoke a memory sensation and that are open-ended led me to think more about multiples, exploring more element and design issues and using colour. I wasn’t ready for that in the beginning.” Subsequently, he began to further consider the use of multiple images and layered exposures in relation to perception and memory.

Instead of representing time, motion, and objects in a chronological medium (such as film or video) or through a temporal medium (such as a single exposure), Carney found that by layering multiple images of the same subject, he could convey more meaning. He says that this technique allows him to “put the viewer in the primary visual perception and make that perception last longer.” Carney’s pieces feature multiple instances that are stacked, with no particular image taking primacy over another.

Carney achieves his images by taking multiple shots with a digital camera. He then uses Photoshop to lower the images’ opacity and creates overlapping layers with them. He states that he is “interested in the technical similarities” of the composite layers that then generate a new image when combined. Although Photoshop is important to his process, Carney notes that he is very restrictive in the application of his methods: “I’m restricting myself in a number of ways. The images are not cropped or tampered with, save using the two ‘x factors’” (i.e., layering and lowering the opacity). In addition to these technical restrictions, he says that he also imposes artistic restrictions that are “constantly in flux” upon himself. While he preserves his principles, his methodology is always changing to some extent.

Although his work may appear abstract, Carney states that stacking images more closely represents an experience and enables his work to more fully describe a situation than a photograph depicting a single frozen instant would. Presenting an authentic account of experience is a central concept within his aesthetic: “I’m charmed by the parts of art history built in a moment of brutal honesty; work that seems to last usually has an idea of honesty.” Carney’s desire to represent truth and honesty in his work is largely inspired by Jack Chambers, an

artist who primarily worked and resided in London, Ontario, and Stan Brakhage, an American experimental filmmaker. Carney specifically acknowledges Chamber’s film featuring a study of his backyard as a particular inspiration to use familiar settings and personally relevant items as subject matter: “I’m not looking to make epic allegories. I’m interested in things I encounter in an honest capacity.” Although Carney’s art begins as separate exposures of familiar subject matter, the final composition functions as an interactive display, yielding multiple interpretations, because time, movement and, memory are all potentially affected by the layers. “The personal aligns but extends into something more open-ended,” Carney explains.

The plasticity of Carney’s creations invites interaction from viewers, stimulating their own perceptions: “Your story [as a viewer] based on an image would be one of a kind,” Carney says. “That is the function of working this way. The work is alive and functioning if people are responding that way.” Carney’s art acquires its life as layers of subjects and instances substantiate the parallel assembly of perception, memory, and experience. The result is an experience that provides meaning for the artist, and the viewer, through a creative extension of photography.

See more of Colin's work at: colincarney.com

This article originally appeared in our Winter Issue PHOTO ART in 2010. Get the issue HERE.

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