• 11.26.12

Has Photoshop Made Us Cynical?

In a new show at Flowers Gallery in the U.K., six artists present work that plays with our expectations of manipulated images from all angles.

When Adobe originally released Photoshop in the mid-1990s, the program was designed to mimic the physical tools and techniques of the darkroom: burning and dodging, for example. As the software developed, these analog references have melted away, overshadowed by tools invented specifically for digital images: the magnetic lasso (introduced in 1998), the red-eye eraser (a 2005 addition), and dozens of others. The software has even changed the way we talk about images, with its name now perhaps more often used as a verb.


A group show at London’s Flowers Gallery this month takes its name from an Anglo slang term for photoshopping: Brush It In. Work from six young artists–most of whom aren’t dedicated photographers–examines the value of images in a “post-Photoshop” world. “What was once a novel and paradigm-shifting digital process has become a banality,” explains curator Lorenzo Durantini. “It is used everywhere and by everyone.” At Flowers Gallery, Durantini is hoping to prove that the ubiquity of Photoshop has done more than make us cynical: It’s reinvigorated other mediums, like sculpture, as well.

Spanish artist Antonio Marguet arranges found objects into carefully curated compositions, photographing the results with an obsessive eye for detail. It’s impossible to tell whether the resulting images are photographs of sculpture or carefully rendered illustrations–we just have to trust him that it’s the former. Joshua Citarella, the New York artist, has several raucous still-life illustrations in the show; Fleur van Dodewaard uses mirrors and light to affect a manipulated image, then reveals the fake. Most of the artists don’t speak to Photoshop directly but hint at it–except for Darren Harvey-Regan, who has encased classical ceramics and sculptures in the blank bitmap checkerboard that serves as a standard background layer in every version of Photoshop. Christiane Feser’s dark collages (meticulously created by adding single strips of paper, photographing the composition, and printing the result, again and again) are a nice antidote to the work of her pastel-happy peers.

Dutch artist Anne de Vries’s work deserves a closer look. Her Steps of Recursion is a sculpture made from images of an Asics training shoe, warped almost beyond recognition. In the gallery, a 2-D image aggregates to become a 3-D path–hence the recursion. Her Cave2Cave images are more difficult to parse. To make the pieces, de Vries built a series of cardboard caves, in which she hung images of actual cave paintings. Then, she hung a layer of foil in front of the cave entrance and photographed the reflections of the paintings in the foil–those images, in turn, were printed on new pieces of reflective paper, which hang in the gallery. A kind of Allegory of the Cave that could only exist in the Photoshop age.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.