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3 August 2011

Penelope Umbrico – Discovery Award, Rencontres d’Arles 2011

Penelope Umbrico’s typologies of everyday descriptive photographs, made in their thousands and posted online, are detached anthropological observations about people, things that matter to them, and their behaviour. At the same time, they are the art of a scavenger, who finds photographs and groups and displays them in ways that are entirely personal to her. Like the others I nominated for the Discovery Award, Umbrico makes provocative and original work, engaged with and about the phenomenon of photography as it is now, a language used by almost all of us, to traffic social meaning online.

Chris Boot


My work is as much a study of photography as it is photography. Searching through images on online communities, I employ methods of re-photographing, scanning and screen-capturing to extract selected details from these images that I feel point to a deflation or a rupture in the idealized representations I find there. Collecting and recontextualizing this material, I become an archivist. The work is an accumulation that registers technological histories while revealing formulations of desire and cultural longings. The idea of absence and erasure is a theme in my work, especially with regard to popular uses of technologies such as photography and the Internet. I question the idea of the democratization of media, where pre-scripted images, made with pre-set tools, claim to foster subjectivity and individuality. I investigate the space between individual and collective photographic practices, and what it means for individuals to take and share photographs with an anonymous public.

Consisting of small details derived from hundreds of images of objects for sale in various states of disrepair, my work for the Discovery Award explores the aftermath and by-products of easy, expedient mass production and the availability of everything, through prevailing user-friendly photographic technologies. I find: unwanted cumbersome CRT TVs as awkward in their photographic frames as they are in their living-rooms; an abundance of universal remote controls—‘universal remote’ an apt metaphor for contemporary conditions of detachment and isolation. A trajectory from images of objects that are like unmanageable obstinate bodies, to images of objects that are abstract extensions of the body, the work tells a kind narrative about the promise and failure of technology—a tour through technologies of image production with a subtext of cultural manifestations of desire, materiality, immateriality, disembodiment, absence, and erasure.

Penelope Umbrico

Framing by Plasticollage and Circad, Paris.

Artist presented by Chris Boot. 

Exhibition venue: Grande Halle, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2011.



Video: Discovery Award, Rencontres d’Arles 2011