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Creative Research Lab


SHADE- August 2005

photo by Adam Schreiber

Adam Schreiber
Vaccuum Gravity Sterilizer, 2005
C-print
30" h x 26" w

Catalog Essay by Caitlin W. Haskell:

"Look to the point of fascination," Hopper seemed to say, "Trust that if you stand long enough to lose yourself, places like automats and offices and motel rooms slowly seep into your mind and acquire a gravity, a significance that could be measured with paint and feeling."
- Joel Meyerowitz, photographer *

It's not surprising that photographers would find Edward Hopper an artist whose style of vision exhibits the qualities they desire from their own work. Like photographs, Hopper's paintings present objects in a way that our culture tends to read as "real," but the environment he presents them in often seems to operate within a different sort of reality. As Edward Hopper often did, Adam Schreiber finds scenarios that invite visual fascination. Both artists are interested in the psychology of uninhabited or sparsely populated settings. Taken in unoccupied offices and deserted factories, Schreiber's photographs encapsulate the conditions for self loss.

At the failure point of self-awareness, one begins to occupy a state of waking memory. Marcel Proust, an author Schreiber admires, is perhaps best known for describing the state of waking memory, but it's a condition not unlike the way I imagine the three figures in Hopper's Nighthawks (1942). A loose translation of this painting, Schreiber's Trilogy, carries the formal structure and existential tone of Nighthawks into a new medium and into a contemporary variation of the deserted commercial space. This is the hollowness of Enron- Tyco-WorldCom, off-shore manufacturing, and failed corporate mergers. The three Nighthawks patrons might sit captive inside the conference room, but it feels eerily probable that the interior space is vacant.

In Multek, an orange light, somehow toxic and foreboding, seeps into the photograph from the upper right corner. Is this the chemical poison that has caused the concrete floor to crumble, exposing a grid of reinforcing rebar around the image's right edge? Despite the abundant detail, we viewers have little information to go on. To some, the cratered floor surface has a lunar quality. To me, the atmosphere is aquatic. Like moving through water, I could not cover this ground quickly. Not only do kinetic processes slow, perception decelerates as well. Here, we must think at the space's own lethargic pace. Slowly, I notice the arrangement of grates. Though heavy and inert, their positioning creates the impression of imperceptible motion. If only our eyes could register their geologically slow shifts, we could see the rear grate mount the one beside it and the grate nearest us in the foreground get overtaken by the one behind it.

Three aspects of Schreiber's unearthly composition deserve specific mention. First is the photograph's nearly uniform chalky green-gray color and texture. Covering not only the concrete floor, but the cast-iron grates, discarded paper, and steel rebar, the color is oddly tied to the environment. Four distinct materials have one tone. And though the materials possess markedly different textures, their color shares the same chalky-textured surface. That doesn't happen naturally in the world I know. Second, Schreiber's ability to confuse the scale in this image is unsettling. The magnified foreground recedes into an expansive territory. My eyes can traverse the entire space, but I have no metric sense of how far they have traveled. Third, aspects of this "concrete" photograph are wonderfully painterly. Where the orange light meets the most worn areas of the floor (at the photograph's center) the slick surface appears to have been put down with a palette knife. The effect is that the photograph appears to have been made from malleable pigment, which Schreiber pulls here from right to left.

The formal tendencies found in Trilogy and Multek appear to a large extent in Schreiber's third photograph, Vacuum Gravity Sterilizer. This rich image creates a particularly effective hold on my eye. The wave-like reflections in lustrous sheet metal are one part visual luxury, one part Rorschach test for the robotic age. Though structured around strong geometric forms, the recession of the photographic surface dissolves into fluid undulations toward the cube's rear. This could be a vacuum for sterilization, or it could be a vacuum for self-awareness. In the warmly colored and symmetrical space, the focal point of fascination seems only inches away.

* Joel Meyerowitz in Joel Meyerowitz; George Segal; William Bailey; Gail Levin, Art Journal, Vol. 41, No. 2, Edward Hopper Symposium at the Whitney Museum of American Art. (Summer, 1981), pp. 150-154.