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SETON SMITH | CHALLENGING PERCEPTION OF SPACE
July 13th 2018
Photographer Seton Smith is interested in concepts of how architecture and environment affect people psychologically. Her images invite people to become very conscious of their surroundings by presenting work that concentrates on the formal aspects of a given space, such as colour, line and perspective.
by Carys Lake-edwards
ARTIST RE-VISITED
One such example of this ability to focus the viewer’s attention is Curving Windows whose title immediately perplexes us, as we appear to be looking, at first glance, at a spiral staircase. Our gaze seems to go directly to the staircase in the right-hand part of the image, as it’s clearly discernable. The image on the left however, is harder to make out as it’s a different vantage point and what we eventually make out as panes of glass is initially a hazy and obscure light-source.
Seton Smith

Curving Windows (1994) , 2000

40(w) x 30(h) cm
15.75(w) x 11.81(h) inches
Cibachrome Diptych print
Edition of 200
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As well as this penchant for alluding to things, Smith presents photographs of easy-to-overlook interior details which again serve to draw us into her scenes -a mirror, an air conditioning unit, a lampshade -highlight the sculptural beauty of the everyday object. Even identical objects, as in Figures, are given attention, where two indistinguishable model figurines are positioned very carefully, one in front of the other. We look, and then immediately question the obscurity of the arrangement as well as their non-descript features. Heart Pitcher is another stunningly simple composition where echoes of the silhouette of water jug are gently imprinted in the background. Here again, there is no attempt to give a literal meaning. It is it obvious from the outset that the viewer is invited into a psychological space through the act of observing.

Regardless of subject, Smith generally uses a handheld Hasselblad camera, and shoots slightly out of focus. In Butterflies, any minute detail that might have appeared in the frame at close range, such as the antennae, or the fuzz of the insects’ bodies, is disregarded, in favour of the soft blend of shadow and light. The next step in the process in printing her creations by hand using the cibachrome printing technique, which produces a high-quality colour print from a colour transparency enlarged directly onto reversal colour paper. The high-gloss paper is unique in that dyes are incorporated into the emulsion on its surface, instead of being formed chemically. This gives exceptional brilliance to the image and is the continued theme throughout her work.
Seton Smith

Drawings and Painting (1996) , 2000

40(w) x 30(h) cm
15.75(w) x 11.81(h) inches
Cibachrome Diptych print
Edition of 200
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Seton Smith’s images with their bright hues, give the optical impression of abstract fragments of colour and space and the dominant subject matter seems to be a certain temperature or atmosphere taken out of context and re-examined in its own light. An illustration of this notion is that she often juxtaposes different kinds of spaces as if they are present different realities that we are living in simultaneously. Both Drawings and Painting and Chandelier and Dress seem to be proposing a continuity of time and place. They are diptychs in which the pairing of two slightly different emphases implies the movement of a viewer like frames in a movie, a disjunctive panorama or migration of objects that are dispersed and out of context.

This element of the visual story changing as the viewer moves through space, is evoked particularly in Chandelier and Dress where perception is really challenged. What is presented are the subtly different perspectives from which to see the same story, as a quarter of a degree to the right and you see the dress - but we’ve had to move to the left to take it in. As we’re pondering our relationship to the image and physically aligning ourselves within it, we realise we’re involved, and so Smith’s statement resonates; “My photographs are meant in a sense to redirect illusion and bring the viewer back to the level of individual presences” . This is her mastery, rooting not only our attention to our own perception of things, but our physical stance to her photographs in the moment we are viewing them.
Seton Smith

Chandelier & Dress (1994) , 2000

40(w) x 30(h) cm
15.75(w) x 11.81(h) inches
Cibachrome Diptych print
Edition of 200
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Seton Smith’s photographs have taken objects and turned them into different things, rendered themselves opaque, illusive and in brilliant colour, distorted space, and used it for reflections or as a reflection within the viewer themselves. Her pointing to objects with her camera, as if indicating objects as parts of psychological language, has built an inventory of images of the otherwise mundane articles of domesticity that furnish our homes. In all of this, she reflects on our ways of navigating space and how we decipher its sensory meaning. This greatly intellectual and sensitive artist has works in the collections of the Whitney Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Villa de Paris, Musée des Beux Arts, Centre George Pompidou and the International Center for Photography, New York.

You can find available photographic print editions by Seton Smith on her artist page here.
Seton Smith

Heart Pitcher (1997) , 2000

30(w) x 40(h) cm
11.81(w) x 15.75(h) inches
Cibachrome print
Edition of 300
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