With an open-ended book commission from Charlotte Cotton of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, artist Shannon Ebner worked with the innovative design team Dexter Sinister (a.k.a. David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey) and produced what is perhaps one of the most intriguing photographic books to surface this year.
Though elegantly printed and designed, Ebner did not intend to produce a standard artist monograph and the non-traditional structure of The Sun as Error makes this very clear; each page is broken into quadrants and numbered to facilitate their reading. The book does not just include the photographs that we have seen already, but also a number of illustrational diagrams (on such subjects as optics and optical illusions, sign language, handwriting and cartography, among others), various photographic experiments culled from the artist's archive as well as an explanatory "Contents" section. Eventually we encounter a beautiful sequence of rigid black and white photographs of letters made from cinder blocks, arranged across spreads to spell words: DAY / DONE / GONE / SUN / GO / LAKE / GO / HILL / GO / TREE / ALL / GOOD / PEACE / SLEEP / GREAT / MYSTERY / HERE. For me, this is the highlight of Ebner's imaginative investigations, and as with most of the book, this poetry is left to the reader to interpret.
The sun is a central symbol in the book and is encountered through text, its literal depiction and through our own consideration of the limitations and processes of the photographic medium, which Ebner underscores at different stages in the book. Another is the asterisk gracing the cover in the form of a bright yellow screenprint (a homage to the graphic designer Muriel Cooper, co-founder of MIT's "Visual Language Workshop" in 1975), which is of course a mark of reference and aesthetically rather solar in itself. These notions of reference and multiple meanings seem to be a large part of Ebner's conceptual motivation for the book, and indeed her photographs in general.
With The Sun as Error, Shannon Ebner sophisticatedly exposes the layers of meaning in photography that are often alluded to but rarely addressed with such vigor. The juxtaposition and interplay of the variety of elements within the book offer new dimensions to her already multifarious and complex images. In collaboration with Dexter Sinister, she has produced a striking object that promotes many readings and is, above all, a considered investigation into the intricate language of photography.
Shane Lavalette Shane Lavalette (b. 1987, Burlington, VT) is a photographer currently living and working in Somerville, MA. In 2009, he received his BFA from Tufts University in partnership with The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His photographs have been published and exhibited internationally. In addition, Lavalette is the founding editor of Lay Flat, a publication of contemporary photography and writing on the medium.
www.shanelavalette.com / www.layflat.org