2019 Profile - Digital show for photographer committed to the analog,
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Digital show for photographer committed to the analog
Tony Amos' hand-crafted art photographs are now being
Stephen Todd - Australian financial Review 16.08.19
Photographer Tony Amos is rather partial to passementeries, the deep sheen and delicate
textures of antique silk tassels beguile his magpie eye. He's also quite fond of flotsam
and sea wrack, dessicated insects, things patinated by time and tide.
Amos' latest series, titled Matter I, is composed of eight majestic images of vintage books in
various states of decay. The decadence is no coincidence: he spent months
bleaching, abrading, burning, and otherwise disfiguring their surfaces, obliterating
their titles. Hacking the narrative.
"It's not about nostalgia," he says. "In fact I'm trying to make something more out of objects
that at a first glance appear as if their lifecycles are finished. "Let's call it upcycling for the visually
Shooting on film and retouching by hand, his large-format photographs celebrate the
imperfections inherent in the analogue, the fine grain steadily sinking beneath the smooth
surface of digital culture.
The irony behind the images is nuanced. "Because they've been photographed on large
format film and then further enlarged, each print contains a massive amount of visual
information," Amos explains. "But at the same time you are not actually getting any detail
about what's contained within the covers of these objects whose very purpose is to
Perhaps an even greater paradox is that while the photographer has gone to such great
lengths to produce his images using time-honoured techniques (a single print can take days
to complete) they are being shown digitally by Sydney's Michael Reid Gallery as part of its
online"Discovery" exhibition program.
Reid's attraction to Amos' Matter I series stems from his appreciation of the conceptual
and technical processes involved, but also from his own love of books. He began
his career in the antiquarian book department of Christie's, London, in the late
1980s before transferring to Christie's Sydney in 1990.
As for Amos, he started out as a pattern-maker in the fashion industry, developing a deft
hand at cutting and retaining a draper's fine eye for detail.
While Reid was in London at the end of the '80s, Amos was in New York. That's where
he began assisting Bruce Weber and David Seidner while developing his own portfolio of
still life, portraits and travel photography, eventually contributing to titles including
Conde Nast Traveller, Elle Decoration and Harpers Bazaar.
As the commercial magazine market began to switch to digital photography, a cheaper,
faster alternative to film, Amos intensified his research into the analog. Inspired by the
expressive arte povera canvases of German painter and sculptor Anselm Keifer, the
ghoulish romanticism of Goya, the objets trouvés of Joseph Cornell, he would spend
hours constructing elaborate still life and portrait sets in his Tribeca studio, or
scouring downtown Manhattan for gritty streetscapes and time-worn interiors.
Through his lens, even a humble set of salt
and pepper shakers in a down-at-heel diner take on an almost mystical allure.
"I hated those sort of airless, precious, perfectly printed, perfectly retouched images
that had become known as fine art photography. Images that were, to me, ultimately
lifeless," he says.
I've spent decades trying to figure out how to break through the surface, to make
something very raw, to tear things up a bit, explore what happens when there are
elements of glitch and twitch."
It's a handcrafted augmented reality.