Tim Keating Photography

George Blakely by Tim Keating

George Blakely

621 Gallery

By Tim Keating

George Blakely's exhibit of recent works reveals a radical departure from the artist previous working method. Blakely ranks as a pioneer in the deconstructionist photography. Early in the 1970s, he launched his career by taking found images out of context, establishing himself as a conceptual artist and a follower of Marcel Duchamp and placing himself outside the mainstream of photographic art practice. 

His earliest works included exhibiting discarded photographs, re- photographing found photographs, assembling a cubic foot of snapshots, numbering 50,000, showing a wall of found Santa Claus snaps, using a paper punch on the faces in thousands of photographs and exhibiting the punched out holes separately from the original prints, assembling 365 sunset postcards, and filling a room with 10,000 postcards of his home state of Florida. At this point, the artist’s pieces clearly lined up with the conceptual work of John Baldessari and Douglas Huebler. 

These works spoke of late capitalist post-industrial society overrun with objects and images about objects. Compulsively collecting, arranging and displaying images of objects, Blakely dazzled viewers with their sheer volume, commented on society's materialistic excesses, and at the same time created new objects of his own, lavish and highly adorned. These works prefigured that of Jeff Koons, Meyer Vaisman, and a host of American post Warhol artists.

Much like the art of Robert Kushner, Blakely's mid-career work, such as that in 1984's Florida Picture Show, used the richly patterned appearance of traditional American craft objects such as quilts to comment on the emptiness of society whose value system so exalted objects and their images. 


His current work attacks this paradox of richness and poverty, fullness and emptiness, with a new strategy. Many of the pieces seen in the 621 show incorporated a real thing, a simulacrum, and yet another version of the thing, decomposing. In Lemon, he attached a yellow plastic lemon shaped ReaLemon juice container to a canvas next to a color photograph of lemon, next to the photograph was a real lemon, shrunken and covered with mold. A painting- like assemblage called Turkey included a bottle of Wild Turkey whiskey, a turkey feather, several wishbones and in front of the austere wall piece, a frozen grocery store turkey on a pedestal, thawing and dripping on the gallery floor. This "Animal Series" also encompassed Mouse, a Mickey Mouse watch and a number of photographs of lab mice, with a live mouse in the cage on the floor beneath. Snake was a long narrow canvas with a rattlesnake skin stretched across it; off-center was a postcard of the Western sunset which echoed the texture of the snakeskin, and on top of this collage rested a polychromed, primitive wood carving of the snake. On the floor below, a live snake coiled in a glass cage. 

Casually leaning in the corner of the galleries were several dozen 10 foot poles, (perhaps Blakely was making a joke about using images to distance ourselves from the real things, that is, not touching things with a 10 foot pole?), looking from a distance like abstract striped rods. On a closer look, the viewer saw the polls were covered with thematically linked black-and-white and color photographs; babies, businessman, food, sections of human skin in different tones. The polls recalled Ronald Davis' and Brice Marden's stripe paintings but also measuring sticks and contemporary totems or ceremonial staffs.

Occasionally the poles had been placed so as to directly intersect a wall piece, as with US, in which a 2 foot high headless plaster figure of a woman in a polka dot dress leaned against the canvas covered with circles cut from the faces of portraits culled from popular magazines. Projecting from the canvas, on a long stainless steel rod, was a round mirror that served to incorporate the viewer’s own face into the piece. US takes it's visual cue from Neo- Geo painting but further corrupted it through a visceral use of materials. This was one of the shows most powerful pieces. 

The third group of works in the exhibit continued Blakely's "Dictionary" series. The artist cut every illustration in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary out of its page and placed them on blank black canvases, one canvas for each letter in the alphabet. Another work in this series consisted of all the color illustrations from the American Heritage Dictionary placed in order on a single black canvas. In Winston Dictionary for Schools, Blakely separated the illustrations from the book and glued them to 26 white canvases. This series provocatively addresses issues pertaining to semiotics, the split between sign and signifier.


On one gallery wall was a series called Cover-Up People, small box pieces reminiscent of Joseph Cornell, George Herms, Alexis Smith and Edward and Nancy Keinholz. Images cut from magazines of the faces of Nixon, Reagan and Bush appeared behind milky glass, half obscured by rusty nails, smash pencil sharpeners, bone fragments and dice. With their fragments of civilization’s detritus, these boxes referred to the speed with which current events become anecdotes and the synthetic quality of our knowledge of such events. Synthetic reality recurred as a theme in Faux, a canvas painted to look like a marble, with attached to it, a credit card, a fake rock, and a real piece of marble and a magazine ad for zirconium jewelry.

My Dad's Fruit presented a problematic image of a nude woman, headless, with a black circle covering her genitals. Beside it was a page from an anatomy text on female genitalia, with a shriveled piece of dried fruit attached. This assemblage was displayed in tandem with Men, which combined a catalogue photograph of a male model in undershorts with the femoral bone and packaging from a toy called Blaster Balls. Taken together, these pieces reduce gender to empty stereotypes and stale jokes, and it was unclear whether the artist meant to comment critically or was simply restating sexist viewpoints. 

The artist sensitivity to cultural otherness came in to question again with Brown, Neutral, Black, which brought together containers of Mohamed Ali shoe polish in the shades of the title with an image, cut into unequal halves, of the fighter clowning for the camera. Fight paired one can of shoe polish with two small wooden figures of boxers. These inevitably were contextualized to Fireballs, which united images of children from Third World countries with marshmallows and red-hot "Atomic Fireball" candies.

Again, the viewer was left to wonder whether these works constitute social critique, and if so, why they were so bleak and open-ended. Perhaps the answer lies in Regurgitate, in which images of food echoed the shape of a plastic pool of fake vomit; or perhaps the answer could be found in Untitled, which juxtapose photographs of lottery winners with a packs of Salem cigarettes, cigarette wrappers and butts, and crushed dollar bills. Was the artist’s intent simply to give back undigested and in a random way (as in a lottery) the myriad contradictory images society offers us?

The sinister and provocative exhibition left this spectator feeling thrilled with Blakely's innovative visual devices and thoroughly engaged in considering the state of the society we live in, but hoping the artist will clarify his position in regard to the meaning of these images. 

Timothy Keating

Timothy Keating is a Professor of Photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design

for Art Papers , Atlanta, GA

George Blakely, A cubic foot of photographs, 1978

George Blakely, A cubic foot of photographs, 1978

Roll Plays Video, Tim Keating by Jim Hugunin

Timothy Keating
Roll Plays, Video
By James Hugunin
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The Grunewald Center for the Graphic Arts
University of California, Los Angeles
Lucinda H. Gedeon, Editor

Timothy Keating makes himself the subject of his imagery. In Roll Plays, he poses for his video camera. The tape is prefaced with the following remarks: "Role-playing with a friend, writing answers to common questions, role-playing in front of a mirror," and is structured as a compilation of short autobiographical vignettes. Keating’s seventeen-minute tape is about personal life, about leading that life on the edge. In one episode he remarks: 

Ya know when you're sitting on a chair and you lean back on the two legs and you think you're going to fall over, and at the last minute before you do, you throw your weight forward?..... Well I feel like that all the time.

In another vignette Keating relates how was approached by a student loan officer and told how much in arrears his loan payments had gotten. On screen, in the most unusual segment, we see the artist holding a little toy man whose head is just a large eyeball! As the narrative grinds on, the toy grinds out weird mechanical noises as the eyeball- head revolves. In one of the more confessional vignettes the artist breaks down a minute of his life into psychologically antithetical five-second intervals:

from Roll Plays Tim Keating

from Roll Plays Tim Keating

Out of 60 seconds I spend about five seconds feeling like I really want to be very close to you and to everyone, and I usually spend five seconds wondering whether I shouldn't hide or not…..

As Keating continues to lift such an opposing psychological states, hinting at a psyche torn by conflicting emotions, on screen only a shadow of his profile is seen.

The feeling we get from Keating's tapes is that of self en-capsulation, the body or psyche as its own surround. The tape seems to be saying: "I am surrounded by me." Keating's body is wedged between two machines, the camera, and finally, the monitor, which re-projects the artist’s body with the immediacy of a mirror. As Rosalind Krauss has put it "The body is therefore as it were centered between two machines that are the opening and closing of a parenthesis.” 29  Interestingly, Keating's string of abrupt segments are separated by several seconds of dark screen, visual “parenthesis.” Meanwhile, the camera frames only fragments of Keating's body, putting his body parts in “brackets”. The overall effect is to further underscore the physical fragmentation given vent in the tape’s monologue. The tape records the artist coming to see that his "self” is a projected object. His frustration, evident in the tape, is due to his own capture by the object with which he can never really coincide. This is analogous to psychoanalytic treatment, where the patient comes to see the distinction between his lived subjectivity in the fantasy projections of himself as an object. Jacques Lacan has put it better: 

…..analysis consist precisely in distinguishing the person lying on the analyst’s couch from the person who is speaking. 30

Herein lies the essence of Keating's particular confessions.

Walker Evans during an interview once expressed his views concerning the interrelationship between machine and man in the act of photographing: 

I don’t think the essence of photography has the hand in it so much. The essence is done very quietly with a flash of the mind, and with the machine. 31

James Hugunin
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Grunwald Center Studies VI
Celebrating Two Decades of Photography
University of California at Los Angeles

Dr. Edith A. Tonelli
Director Frederick S. Wright Art Gallery 

Lucinda H Gedeon, Curator

Forward  Robert Heineken, Professor of Art, UCLA 

29 Rosalind Krauss,”Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism,” New Artists Video, Gregory Battock,ed.( New York: Dutton, 1978),p.45.

30 Jacque Lacan, The Language of the Self (New York: Delta, 1968) page 11.

31 Leslie Katz,” An interview with Walker Evans,” Photography in Print: 1816 to the Present: Vicky Goldberg, ed. (New York, Simon and Schuster Publishers, 1981), page 363.


Performance as Photography by Tim Keating

Performance as Photograph/ Photograph as Performance
The Value of Preserving Human Activity

Timothy Keating

History was slipping away. Like an unfixed photographic print exposed to the light, the images were growing dark and disappearing… one realized the past is almost impossible to reconstruct with accuracy. Even the history of our own century, involving the experiences of people who are still living, is becoming unavailable to us. 1

This statement refers to the limitations inherent in relying exclusively on memory as the primary means of recalling what has occurred during a performance. The inadequacy of memory has let increasingly to the need for performance artists to document their works photographically. Therefore, through the use of photography, certain human activities are preserved and rescued from the inevitable "process of fading." 2

Performance, as an art term, implicitly resists a definition. There are, however, specific parameters in which performance has been presented in a visual arts context. Performance has been called sculpture as activity. It is usually executed in public. Often, the artist employs the first person narrative. The content of many performances has been of a socio political nature. The performance exists as a microcosm of society and hence our condition as individuals is examined through a system staged by the artist. 

Documentation of the temporal art of performance has occurred in many forms: magazine articles, exhibition catalogs, video, film, and most importantly, self initiated publications. These media corroborations function as alternative exhibition spaces. Invariably, these publications rely on the photographic image to document and authenticate the artist actions. Paradoxically, a site-specific and time- specific activity is relayed to the viewing audience via the vehicle of the photographically induced offset page. This development has lead performance artist to become increasingly aware of the singular property of the photograph.

Are unique characteristic of the photograph is that one believes the image has an authentic relationship with existence. This relationship consists of the networks established between the three-dimensional space we occupy and the two-dimensional picture plane that chemically and optically represents it. Photographs are believable. A photograph functions as an eyewitness to our experiences. Again, an authentic aspect of the photograph is that the image has a point-to-point correspondence to reality.3 But that the artist can subjectively control correspondence to reality. 

Allan Kaprow was one of the most influential of the performance artists. In 1976, Allan Kaprow published an artist book describing an activity "carried out by a small group of couples, in Warsaw."4 These "activities”, as Kaprow calls them, where enacted without an audience and were experienced exclusively by those who were directly involved as participants. The book consists of photographs and a text that illustrate the activities. The photographs do not attempt to document these activities. The images are the result of a calculated posing by a professional photographer. The images are created separately from the performances. Thus the photographs function both as diagrams of the activity and as well pose questions about the supposed authenticity of the photograph as a document. 

Viewing one page of the book, we see two photographs separated by lines of descriptive text  (Fig.1). In the first image an arm reaches down and dusts a man's work boots with white powder. The arm is garmented in the plaid we know to signify a flannel work shirt. The other hand rests upon the knee of the corduroy work pants. Five negative footprints are left behind, clearly attesting to the man's path of movement. The second image depicts a woman, bending over and sweeping the negative footprints into a dustpan.

These photographs become a residue of the performance. They fix our perception of the event with clarity unprecedented in the visual arts. This fidelity of the image makes the "appearance of things" permanently available for reflective consideration. The functional value of the photograph for Kaprow and other artists is that a significant moment can be comprehended in isolation from its original circumstances. This allows for the premise that the value of photography is that it serves as a testimony to human aesthetic activity and permits us to assume that the representation of this activity must be studied if it is to have any lasting cultural significance. 

If it is true that many performances are eventually viewed as photographs, it is also noteworthy that many photographs begin as activities that are staged for the camera. This leads to some confusion of boundaries. But the question is not what photographs are, but instead what photographs do; i.e., how photographs are perceived, in what context and what their consequences are.

Photographs allow one to ruminate on the aesthetic actions of man. The ancient Greek meaning for the word aesthetic was perception through the senses and feelings.  5 Recently, the images of many photographers have tended to question our ability to perceive through the senses and feelings. These photographers intimate that the content of images grows out of the viewer’s ability to read the implications of the photograph. The works of John Divola, Graham Howe and Kenneth Josephson serve to alter our comprehension of the causal history of marks and gestures. Divola and Howe use spray paint to affect our understanding of the physical properties of light, how sculptural space is perceived and the possibilities of the photograph to present us with an illusion. Josephson poses a serious question about the function of the photograph albeit in a humorous manner. His print depicts a sharpened pencil that points to a line on the waist of the female model. Is this line the impression left behind by an elastic band on the models underwear, or is it the graphite of the drawn line? Is the photograph a record of external events, or is the function of a photograph to record the conceptual structure of the artist.

Gillian Brown, like Kaprow, confronts us with the two-part photograph (Fig.2). In the first, a woman is posed on a stuffed chair. The chair is white and has a black floral pattern. Next to the chair is a dark gray end table. Under the table is a black cat peering out of the dense shadows. The woman is dressed in white pants and a light gray shirt. A landscape in a white frame hangs on the wall above her head. The second picture in Browns pair appears to be an exact photographic negative of the first. However, clues exist which lead us to doubt our initial perception of this "negative" print. The cat has moved out from under the table. Time has elapsed. Traces of paint are apparent. Reassessing the information, we realize the tableau has been painted in order to appear as a negative. Like Kaprow’s document, aspects of our understanding of the meaning of the first image have been a erased by the second image. Yet, the second image, the erasure itself becomes it's own activity, complete with its own set of implications.

In the last few years, artist of diverse disciplines have engaged in the medium of photography. These photographs eradicate the traditional boundaries of art by eliciting diverse combinations of form and ideas that address specific human events in unorthodox ways. These prints are not merely objects to be viewed in a detached manner; they are referentially linked to the floor that the viewer stands upon, the buildings that they are shown in, and grow to include the process the constructs them. These images become open forms extending out in intention and finally, in their ability to document human actions that are the evidences of human thought. This performance artist Eleanor Antin has said, "history is fiction… documentation is not a neutral list of facts… It is a conceptual creation of the events after they are over.”6 


1 Michael Kirby, Futurist Performance (EP Dutton 1971).  Pg. vii, Kirby is commenting on Rossera Despero's lack of recall regarding her late husband's early performance work after his death in 1960. Her husband Fortunato Despero was a founding member of the Italian Futurist movement and as such one of the first performance artists

2 ibid

3 Leroy Searle. "The Imaginary Eye and the Place of Vision”. Exposure,18:1 1980. pp. 42–58 .

4 Allan Kaprow. Testimonials. 1976 (self- published artist book).

5 The ancient Greek word for this was eidos or idea.

6 Eleanor Antin, "Notes on Transformation," Flash Art, vol. 59, Mar/ April 1974, p 69.

Figs. 8&9: A negative is formed when millions of expose crystals are converted to silver by the developer.

Gillian Brown

Gillian Brown
Figs.8&9: A negative is formed when millions of exposed crystals are converted to silver by the developer. 1980-81
Silver prints
9 1/4 x 12 7/8 (each image)


copyright Tim Keating 2017