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Richard Caldicott

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The Things They Are…

The everyday plastic objects from which these images are made are transformed into resonant columnar objects that read as iconic sculptural forms in a kind of 21st century nod to Brancusi’s Endless Column. One of the characteristics of the kinds of plastics from which the mass-produced things utilised in these photographs are made is that their colour is embodied in their material, so that colour and form become indivisible.  The difference between a thing that is coloured and a thing to which colour has been applied is immediately recognisable and perceptually very significant (think for instance of the difference between the painted planes and bars of a Rietveld chair and the moulded plastic ‘colourform’ of an Eames plastic chair).  This characteristic of coloured plastic means that even when the material is transparent enough to allow light through, it retains its colour and consequently affects the colour of the light.  The particular use of light in these works exploits the varying densities of the plastics and their colourings in a play between opaque and transparent forms.  Since the mundane functional origins of the things from which the photographs are made remain visible even as they are transformed into objects of contemplation, this play between opacity and transparency is paralleled by a play between the literal world and abstract form.

It may seem at odds with the abstract and formalist nature of Richard Caldicott’s photographs to quote a documentary street photographer in relation to them, but Gary Winogrand’s assertion that he took photographs “to find out what things will look like photographed” is relevant here. [1]   And, crucially, what Caldicott finds out is that they can look very different to the things they are.  Winogrand also said, speaking of Walker Evans, that “his photographs are about how what is photographed is changed by being photographed, and how things exist in photographs” [2]  This is very much the case in relation to the mundane things used by Caldicott, but if his photographs are ‘about’ anything, as opposed to being the things they are themselves, they are about the power of the imagination to transform the material world of objects that surrounds us and create sensuous, elegant and pristinely new things from it.

A photographer perhaps closer to Caldicott’s sensibilities, Aaron Siskind, has said: “When I make a photograph I want it to be an altogether new object, complete and self-contained, whose basic condition is order, unlike the world of events and actions, whose permanent condition is change and disorder”.[3]  The order in these self-contained new objects of Caldicott’s is one that derives from his usual discipline and restraint; a minimalist aesthetic that works within the constraints of the simplest of structures and forms whilst imbuing them with a sensual richness that borders on decadence.  Like a kind of alchemy, the production of these works uses technological processes to transform uniform components that are themselves the products of industrialised manufacture into singular objects that generate a separate existence from a mass of copies.  Varying between densely coloured opacity, translucence and reflective brilliance, their surfaces generate a seductive richness that belies both the austerity of their origins and the simplicity of their form.  In this they are the epitome of ‘cool’, in the sense that it has been defined by Dave Hickey as “minimalism redeemed with eros and atmosphere”. [4]

 

Derek Horton

 

 

1. Garry Winogrand,  ‘Monkeys Make the Problem More Difficult’: A Collective Interview with Garry Winogrand, transcribed by Dennis Longwell, in Peninah R. Petruck [ed.], The Camera Viewed: Writings on Twentieth Century Photography, Vol.II, New York: Dutton, 1979 (p.127)

2. Garry Winogrand in Walker Evans, The Hungry Eye, London: Thames & Hudson, 1993 (p.12)

3. Aaron Siskind in Brooks Johnson [ed.], Photography Speaks, New York: Aperture, 2004 (p.184)

4. Dave Hickey, Cool on Cool: William Claxton and the Way the Music Looked, in Elizabeth Armstrong [ed.], Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Mid-century, Newport Beach California: Orange County Museum of Art and Prestel Publishing, 2007 (p.137)