New Colour Guide
2013 - by Moritz Scheper, GUP Magazine
With his eighth self-published book, British conceptual photographer John MacLean adds himself to the list of artists toying around with digital imagery. In his ‘New Colour Guide’, a book of 68 pages brim-full with colour plates, MacLean reveals himself to be smitten with the brightly gleaming colours which transform pictures to a hyperrealistic level, dancing on the edge of a mystical and outlandish iconology.
While going through the book for the first time, one grasps straightaway that this sequence of everyday scenes distinguishes itself with unusual vantage points as much as a richness in colour. There are pictures of groups of people shot from above which really need a second glance to comprehend. While making out the photographs’ motif, the viewer’s attention is slowly drawn away by the colourful clothing they wear. The same approach is taken with a beautiful picture of a modernist lamp against a beige wall. The background absorbs the white lamp’s outlines, freeing the red, orange and yellow patterns on the inside.
One inevitably gets the impression that MacLean’s main goal is the liberation of colour from its context. This applies in particular to the photographs that depict paint splatters glowing on dirty snow. The outlines which generally give shape to colour become secondary here. Accordingly, the everyday scenes that MacLean depicts are more of a backdrop for the abstract play of unbound colour.
This becomes even more evident through another defining factor of the work in The New Colour Guide, which makes the project a remarkable one in the wide range of digital photography. Very much comparable to Thomas Ruff’s ‘JPEGs’ series, MacLean renders the peculiarities of digital pictures visible. As distinct from the analogue way of taking pictures, digital images only become visible through an underlying layer of binary code. Distortions to that underlying code cause colourful effects on the visible layer, visually similar to Gerhard Richter abstracts. Instead of viewing them as errors, MacLean embraces these digital corruptions for their interesting visual quality.
Needless to say that these pictures showing the interference perfectly match the leitmotif of “New Colour Guide”– colour. The digitally distorted images allow for the colour liberation MacLean pursues to become total. All form has been erased here, leaving the photographs with pure and abstract colour. This playful approach with the reciprocity of both the visual and underlying layers of digital images makes MacLean’s work one of the wittiest approaches to digital imagery so far.
Moritz Scheper Feb 2013