Artist’s Statement

The general subject matter of my artwork is the difficulty of seeing things: any and all objects.  For almost thirty years, I worked as a commercial photographer, and for most of those years I considered that work to be an interruption of my career as an artist.  However, I now understand the commercial work’s essential role in transforming my art, providing both the theoretical foundation and the technical skills that under-gird all my current work.

From 1983 until 2011, I worked in New York City as a freelance photographer: specializing in large format, 8×10 and 4×5, still life commercial work.  I primarily served the Fine and Decorative Arts industry and its galleries, collectors, auction houses and museums.

Wanting to be freed from the constraints of the studio, as well as the laboriousness and cost of large format photography, I started carrying a small high quality point-and-shoot 35mm camera loaded with color negative film.  With the advances of technology I now shoot digitally.  Thus armed I am ready when a person, a place or a scene grabs me.  I can grab it back–in multiple frames.

The subject matter for this work is basic, common: people, places, things.  I focus most often on a single object or person.  That single person or object is close, front and center in the composition.  The gaze of my camera is straightforward, objective, a stare, not a glance, the kind of look that frequently elicits unease in human subjects. Capturing the original image is quite similar to my work as a commercial photographer.  I want the subject of the photograph to look like the subject in real life.  I shoot my subject from the perspective of a person standing in front of it, trying look at it and see it.  But I also try to capture the ephemeral and simultaneously transcendent quality in the subject that initially grabbed me.

It is important to keep in mind that these are large scale images, up to 90″ in length.  The finished work splices a series of frames into a single complex “view” of the subject.  I assemble the multiple frames in a fashion that is neither smoothly continuous nor bluntly formulaic.  The image is intended to flow as a composition, completing and clarifying the subject while also including discordant jerks and repetition.  My aim is to convey a sense of stretched temporality and of multiple points of view giving a historical dimension to the finished piece.  My images mimic the way that we actually take in an object, with our eyes darting from side to side, similar to cinema, and assembling disparate pieces into a whole.  My technique also highlights the discontinuity of the process of photography and introduces tension between the seen and the expected, thereby both clarifying and obscuring the essence of the object itself.

My most recent work is a series of images of the rock faces of road cuts.  Road cuts are usually seen through the window of a vehicle traveling at high speed.  A road cut presents a slice of millions of years of geologic time which has become visible only as a result of human intervention: namely, dynamite.  A road cut is a strange object.  It has been naturally composed over millions of years; yet it does not come into view until the landscape has been unnaturally sliced in half by a highway, and is then only seen by a speeding glance.

The photographic techniques I use to represent a road cut are intended to capture its inherent tension as subject matter and the difficulty of seeing it as an object in the landscape. A road cut must be shot up close to be properly seen in its detail; however to capture the entire scene multiple frames are required. The large scale of the finished product implies that the object cannot be seen and understood properly with a single glance from a great distance; no single focal point can provide a full and proper perspective.  The final composition, which incorporates multiple images, thereby expresses both the need to see the road cut over time and the difficulty of doing so.

I graduated from Williams College in 1978 with a double major in History and Art Studio, with an emphasis on graphics and printmaking.  I later graduated from UNC-Charlotte in 1981 with a Bachelor of Creative Arts degree, with an emphasis on mixed media graphics using technology based media.

In 1981 I was accepted into the graduate MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Art and Technology department.  While there I continued my work incorporating photography, video, computer based and graphic media into large-scale (> 6’ x 8’) images.  In 1982 I applied for and received an Andrew Mellon Foundation graduate fellowship at the School of the Art Institute for work in art and technology.  The fellowship allowed me to continue my work with the mixed media technology, which I had been exploring.  I received my MFA in 1983.

Since graduation, my art has exhibited several distinct phases. From 1983 until about 1988 I continued my interest in found video and photography.  My process took images from commercial video and interpreted them through large scale c-prints.  I used these as preparatory material for the large scaled computer ink jet mediated “paintings”.

From 1987 until 1991 I developed a series of large scale, large format, Topical Still Life images.  These pictures continued my interest in social and political content and addressed varied issues, including nuclear proliferation, apartheid, social unrest and sexuality.  They were presented in highly saturated, large (30” x 40”) Cibachrome prints. From 1991 until 2000, after the birth of my daughter and the demands that followed, my work was concentrated on medium format black and white photographs.  The imagery of this work was a combination of street photography and portraits.  In contrast to most of my previous work this imagery was primarily formal in content.  This was in response to the nature of the format and my life at the time.

Starting in the year 2000 my work took a clear turn in both technique and output.  I began the small format multi-frame series of work that continues today.  The portfolio presented on this website is a survey of this last phase of work, the people, places and things that have struck me in my daily life and my travels to foreign locales.

-Wit McKay