Christopher Williams
USA, 1956
Christopher Williams’ work takes the new status of photography in conceptual art—as an autonomous art form rather than simply a medium for mimetic representation—to an extreme, building on the teachings of Douglas Huebler and John Baldessari, and taking their ideas a step further. Williams is not particularly interested in exploring the intrinsic characteristics of the medium or its capacity for parodic questioning. Instead he reasserts its descriptive and figurative power in relation to the world of objects, proceeding like an entomologist, with modern industrial culture and the photographic industry in particular as his object of study. The artist is aware that an image is not the expression of an individual artist, but of a specific culture; it reflects a series of circumstances, mediated by numerous technical factors that have social, economic, and political implications. Photography as a discipline and a technique plays a fundamental role in the narratives of progress associated with modernity, and the medium is not untouched by its consequences. Williams’ photographs are accompanied by long captions full of technical details that focus on the material and physical properties of things. In many cases, this information looks like something from a catalogue of industrial products. In this context, his images always point back to a history that is linked to the object but lies outside the image. For Williams, ‘every object around us is at once very present and identifiable, but also the representative of multiple historical trajectories, economies, and desires which you barely have to scratch the surface to get into.’ Interested viewers must work from what is intuited to reconstruct this background. It is through this process, for example, that we are able to understand that the Michelin tyres so present in the artist’s photographs of the Paris uprisings of the 1960s are made of rubber from Vietnam. With his constant questioning of representation, Williams wants to show imperfection, regarded as a taboo in many photographic genres. His work can be interpreted as an attempt to pervert the process of sanitation that occurs in fashion photography by revealing faults, tricks, and the imperfection of models. From inside the world of photography, Williams celebrates the multiple factors that come into play to produce a photograph, challenging the notion of authorship, and highlighting the power of the industry and its advertising arm to manage and define our desires.
Núria Enguita