Carly Steinbrunn’s Voyage of Discovery constructs an incomplete, informal taxonomy, inviting us to consider how we can coordinate the diverse constituents of our visual world, as shared through the spaces of our lived experiences and relationships to both nature and artifice. More specifically, Steinbrunn is attracted by epiphenomena, a concern which involves an affinity with the ephemeral character of photography, especially in its modern form: the momentary pseudo-rain clouds generated by the spray from large waterfalls; the plumes of smoke emanating from a space rocket, and, by contrast, the wing-tip of a passenger jet as it makes a crash-landing; the strange rainbow-effect generated by a multi-coloured ‘exotic’ plant, and the patterns of light and shadow formed by the scarified face of a Bobo tribesman.
Steinbrunn asks, in redistributing the cards of the photographic ‘natural history’, what form could possibly constitute an authentic photographic gesture in the present era. This question emerges perceptibly between the frost of the cold snow and the liquidity of the tropical climate encompassed by the book. These changes in temperature and in the states of matter mirror the current condition of photographic images: if they were once considered solid, concrete objects, their materiality has indubitably been altered: ‘images-birds’ as Karl Sierek portrays them, flying through computers, libraries and social networks.
A multiplicity of positions towards image-making is deployed throughout the series. Steinbrunn embraces in the same opus photographs that seem to have been taken by her, alongside found images. The Voyage of Discovery transports us in a journey that subsumes both photographic realism and surrealism. The subtle juggling of photographic gestures reinvigorates the over-used, all but worn-out concept of the archive, by acclimatising and readjusting ‘found’ material in order to generate a more freely imaginative order. This recalls the way in which some field-recordists blend found, location sounds with created material to synthesise impure, hybrid forms; a reflection on their own aims and selection criteria as much as a source of new kinds of aesthetic experiences.
The gathering of diverse photographic genres in this book, with their different degrees of purpose and formality, from the fortuitous catching of a dramatic event to the diligently posed anthropological study, and the mixture of colour and black-and-white, echo the constant evolution in our manner of taking pictures. A plurality of ages of the photographic image – from wet collodion to box brownie to, perhaps, digitally modified images – and disparate areas of representation coalesce: different degrees of vitality of nature, contrasting states of vivacity of the images. The Voyage of Discovery, by embracing in its subject matter both the wilderness and the laboratory, the found and the created, invites us to contemplate the life of the past in the present, to meditate about our current appropriation of images, of technologies, and to dwell on our tenure of nature.
This review was published by photomonitor in october 2015