Thomas Albdorf on creating a 'digital soup' through the decontextualisation of images
Thomas Albdorf’s still lifes are never quite what they seem – the more you look, the more the perspectives, shapes and colours shift, reflecting the Austrian photographer’s interest in manufacturing beauty and uncertainty out of the seemingly mundane. “What fascinates me when I look at art created by other people is how they engage with simple objects within their immediate reach,” he says. “I feel drawn to people who manage to create something very beautiful and charming out of almost nothing.”
Albdorf’s immediate surroundings are the outskirts of Vienna, an area he wandered in search of raw material for his Former Writer series. Seizing on wood, wire, tyres and fridges, he created a kind of ‘edgelands’ trash art, sometimes adding paint to enhance the sense of uncertainty. “I used to do graffiti writing but I stopped at an early age because it’s quite superficial,” he says. “But as I was wandering the peripheries of Vienna, I saw tags and I wanted to use a spray can again.
“I like the idea because one of the easiest tools to use in Photoshop is the simple brush, so I thought I would use a mixture of real and fake paint. So the paint in the first picture in Former Writer is Photoshopped in – you can’t see it in the reflection in the mirror. But the paint in the second one was sprayed on with a can, and you can see the drips. When I use paint in this series, I create basic, thick lines because that’s what works best with spray cans. So it’s very rough and naïve, and it links digital painting to analogue painting.”
Albdorf also mixed up where he worked, sometimes shooting on location and sometimes setting up the shots indoors. “The studio as a place became a topic of interest for me; the idea that if something is inside it’s staged and if it’s outside it’s authentic,” he says. “I wanted to see how these two types of image work together.
“I did a presentation on Allan Sekula’s Fish Story when I was studying; it’s a story shot on container ships about how goods are shipped around the world. During the process, I wasn’t sure if Sekula really went on the trips with the container ships. Was it real or not? I didn’t know. So I asked my professor. She didn’t know either. But it doesn’t matter, authenticity doesn’t matter. It’s hard to draw a line between the two, and that’s what my work is about.”
Albdorf is fascinated by the way the internet decontextualises images. Pictures that would once have been given meaning by being shown in a newspaper, magazine or a family album are stripped bare, he says, rendering them all part of the same ‘digital soup’. “I’m interested in creating images that stage this uncertainty,” he says. “I’m trying to show images that don’t have too much logic in them, where the subjects and objects aren’t functioning as they are supposed to. Decontextualisation is present in how we see images, and as long as the internet works the way it does, that uncertainty needs to be examined.”
Find more of Thomas’s work here.
First published in the January 2014 issue. You can buy the issue here.