New Colour Guide.
John MacLean’s latest book ‘New Colour Guide’ is remarkable; at a certain level some of his photographs are similar to Gill’s, in that they are arrangements of colour and line that, through the framing and the flattening effect of the camera, become almost entirely abstract. But these are altogether more surprising, more deliberate and more carefully and thoughtfully constructed. Some of the images and sequences of images are overtly surrealistic (particularly a triptych on a gatefold page showing the back of a man’s garish tree-patterned shirt, a flashlit, new-leafed bush in the snow, and a bowl of yellow fruit on which a butterfly has settled, shot against a background of dark foliage; the butterfly’s wing bears a striking pattern which makes it look like a snake’s or fish’s head).
However all the images in the book have a surrealistic edge to them. Compiling his photographs from a variety of interior and exterior settings, MacLean somehow makes them all strange, not what they are, through the angle of view (many of the pictures of people are shot from above, or just show their backs) or the cropping (one image of a tree photographed through a window momentarily appeared to me to be four separate images) or simply the unexpected composition. A series of photographs of what seems to be a bright spray of paint against frozen river water, or snow; a triptych of unexpected reds; some photos of blood in the snow.
MacLean is attempting to photograph colour as colour, rather than as the thing to which it has the appearance of being attached (from which it is reflected). Seeing his images, it becomes startling that so few photographers look in this way, at least so concertedly; MacLean’s pictures take us in a useful direction when we come to think about representation, reality and indexicality. If the representation is always anyway an abstraction of the real (or even perhaps of the idea that is the precursor of the real) then should we not try and think more often of the photograph as a record of perception, rather than trying to agonise its connection to the unmediated, objectively real?
Most unusual here are the photographs in which MacLean has included the artefacts and pixellations that come with corrupted digital files; here the colour might have no relationship with the thing that was actually photographed, springing instead from some odd collision of data that ordinarily would have been a face or a sky.
Daniel Jewesbury Feb 2013.