Culture  Tricks of the lens

Exhibition stages Loch Ness photos to expose the unreliability of the photographic medium

A pproaching a photograph as a documentation of the real world always proves to be problematic, as photography is an easily manipulated medium. With a slight change in camera placement and choice of perspective, one can create an entirely new image. Steve Lyons’s installation Loch Ness, currently being shown at the Skol gallery, sets out to reveal just this.

Upon entering the gallery space, viewers are greeted with a television projection of a Loch Ness expedition. To the right of the TV, the floor is littered with mounted pieces of cardboard, wood, and paper splotched with paint. The overall effect can feel confusing, and disconnected from this idea of manipulation. However, when one looks through the video camera set up on a tripod facing these objects, the installation begins to make sense. Seen through the lens, these randomly set up recycled shapes project the exact same image shown on the television screen. Using salvaged and recycled materials, Lyons – a Concordia student currently pursuing his Masters’ in art history – is able to make his audience really grasp the perils of relying on photography as hard evidence.

Since it was first reported in 1933, the Loch Ness Monster’s existence has been much debated, captivating the imaginations of people around the world. Much of the evidence used to prove the existence of the mythical animal has been dismissed as elaborately thought-out hoax photographs or incorrectly identified objects in the water. Lyons’s main focus with this installation is not so much to question the legitimacy of the modern day myth itself, but to show the case’s dependency upon photography as its most convincing evidence. The Loch Ness investigation has a “reliance on photographic technology to try to prove the existence of an elusive species,” Lyons explained. “It figures as ‘evidence’ something which will always be uncertain.”

Lyons shows his audience how easily a few objects set up at a certain angle can replicate a photographic subject that doesn’t exist in real life. As Lyons puts it: “after a photograph has been taken, its referent, or, in other words, the thing which is placed before the camera lens, is immediately lost, and the photographic document is mediated and limited by the lens used, the film stock, the shot’s angle, the distance from the object, and so on.” The installation “takes Loch Ness as a metaphor, placing the viewer in direct contact with both the image and referent, exposing what is hiding in plain sight.”

Lyons allows his audience to experience the inherent unreliability of photography for themselves by making his installation interactive. Offering more than a side-by-side comparison of manipulated and original photographs, the audience is given the chance to see what is really in front of the camera, and witness the process of how a new image can be created. In his own words, Lyons is letting the viewers “[navigate] the entire space, inside the frame of view and around it, [so that] the visitor may question the relationship between the two- dimensional representation and three-dimensional material referent and challenge its inconsistencies.”

Loch Ness successfully explores this link between medium and evidence, through Lyon’s intent to provide “an opportunity for a visitor to physically experience the photographic object.” By adding the element of back-story through careful placement of objects, Lyons is able to break the sensory restrictions that photography always entails.

Loch Ness is currently on display at SKOL (372 Ste. Catherine
O., suite 314).