Photos: Reflections of the Sublime in Technology and Nature

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All photos by Karley Sullivan.

I’ve always been attracted to the sublime—well, attracted and repulsed, as the theory is wont to explain. But my initial introduction to the sublime wasn’t a piece of art; it was an abandoned quarry. I was quite young and became separated from my parents and their friends as we tried to find a legendary swimming hole. I found it first, but was alone and small. I sat there bouncing my own voice against the sheer rock walls until they found me.
There’s admittedly a thrill as I recount this story, but there was no pleasure in the actual occurrence. It took distance and growth to digest that fear and awe into an interest that I wanted to pursue. This story plays into how two sides of an experience can be so similar but opposite. The question becomes what happened, why, and how do I interpret it to share with others?
I decided to make some simple photographic diptychs in an attempt to visualize the problem. In his 1982 essay, “Presenting the Unpresentable: The Sublime,” (recently collected in Whitechapel’s The Sublime) the French philosopher Jean Francois Lyotard tells us, “Photography achieves this programme of metapolitical visual and social ordering. It achieves it in both senses of the word: it realizes it, and it concludes it.” When I look at these images, and see them come and go from a single point, my questions become a touch clearer.  Ah, the incremental joys of attempting to couple theory with practice. Yes, I am a graduate student right now. Learning is fun-de-mental.

Perennial Properties

Georgia Museum of Art

These images are taken from the excursion that I shared with you the last time I wrote a Dodge and Burn piece, titled “Invasive Species Along the Silver Comet Trail.” They are offshoots of the Invasives Project, where I explore affected natural areas with an eye towards what grows when the native species have been eradicated by development. Here, my old interests in ecology and visual line are compounded with my present fascination in symmetry and digital capabilities.
Lately, I’ve been enamored with mirroring effects, doubling images, and digital time-based shifts. The effects are so easy; you just click a series of buttons in Photoshop. Technology continues to confound and delight me; like deciphering a code, the pleasure of figuring it out is instantaneous. Technology is the new sublime frontier.

I felt like I had accomplished something important just by learning how to make these images. I love them, but soon after finishing, I realized how redundant it can be when special effects power a piece. These images aren’t a finished body of work, but represent a step towards figuring out how to improve and talk about my art on a deeper level. I may not have clear answers now, but now it’s onward and upward for 2013. Whether physical or virtual, here’s wishing that everyone discovers new, stunning experiences in the New Year.