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13 August 2010

Roe Ethridge, Rencontres d’Arles 2010

Roe Ethridge was born in Miami and received a B.F.A. in photography at The College of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Ethridge’s multifarious images are drawn from his direct experience and from events in his life. While continuing to work as a professional photographer for magazines, he has created artwork that is multiple and restless in its focus: both ‘captured’ images and staged ‘hyper-images’ that are often made using techniques learned from commercial photography. The portrait, landscape and still life remain the triadic concerns of his practice.

Tom Eccles

At the heart of Roe Ethridge’s conceptual approach to photography is a playful attack on the traditions and conventions of photography itself. Spurning the autonomy of any individual image, Ethridge instead makes unexpected juxtapositions of colour photographs, blending the realm of ‘art photography’ with images more commonly associated with the commercial realm. Sequences of photographs yield different kinds of interstitial associative meanings, and Ethridge’s carefully ordered choices lend his ostensibly mundane images a hyper-real, uncanny edge. Their offhand sensibility often belies their carefully structured and manufactured origins. Although Ethridge usually engages in a serial, thematic approach to his practice, the images within any given series can seem almost like random selections from some online stock-photography site. The work constructs its meaning more like a photo-essay than as discrete images of individual moments, echoing the editorial format of magazines. Seemingly wide-ranging subjects sit side by side, forcing viewers to grapple with shifts between the worlds of documentary, fashion, advertising, landscape, portrait and catalogue photography.

Influenced by the appropriation strategies and conceptual, serial approaches of many artists since the late 1970s and 1980s such as Richard Prince, Christopher Williams and Thomas Ruff, Ethridge’s work relinquishes modernist notions of originality within any given photograph, and embraces a post-appropriative sense of authorship wherein significance is situated at the in-between junctures and within the means and mechanisms of his restagings. Aided by the advances of digital technologies, which afford ever greater flexibility in manipulating existing imagery, Ethridge is especially comfortable as an artist actively working in both the commercial and art photography worlds. This gives him the ability to strategically misrepresent extant photographic topologies and to suggest slippages between them. As Ethridge exhumes and samples the photographic past, he willfully offers up imperfection, rehearsing the histories, genres and styles of photography in order to pit them against one another. In this way, he implies that the various realms of photography—whether ‘high’ or ‘low’—are interchangeable in today’s consumer-dominated society. Moreover, his practice reflects the potentially unnerving proposition that any given image—or by extension, any object itself—can be a substitute for another, implying that our contemporary moment may be shaped not so much by the particular objects we consume, but by the delivery systems and modes of distribution that circulate them throughout the world.

Deborah Singer


Roe Ethridge is represented by the Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York and by the Sutton Lane Gallery.

Artist presented by Tom Eccles.

Exhibition venue: Atelier de Mécanique, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2010.