Jed Escueta: Valid Until Life

Valid Until Life
Gallery 2, Light and Space Contemporary
53 Fairlane St., West Fairview, Quezon City, PH
June 29 – 30 July 2013

Valid Until Life gathers the work of Jed Escueta who explores strategies of representation and narration in his photographs. Since starting out as a photographer, Escueta has used the camera to call our attention to the poetic wealth concealed in ordinary things. Often deliberately understated, these photographs are filled with everyday epiphanies. The phrase “Valid Until Life” has captured the imagination of the photographer for the profound tone of an axiom that merely denotes that one’s affiliation or membership in a certain club has no expiration.

The works in Valid Until Life encourage a heightened awareness of the fleeting beauty to be found in peculiar objects and chance occurrences. In his photographs of cannabis plants, Escueta takes on the patterns to evoke an insinuation of nature. The downplaying of subject matter presents the potency of the incident, to point to the ways in which notions affect perception, and to remind us to go beyond associations, even as the intention of the artist eludes our grasp. Sometimes there is an attempt to strip the photograph of contexts or merely to apply multiple treatments; in this case, the cannabis plant photos can also be seen as any other artists’ staple, the floral still life.

In a photograph of the foot of a Buddha statue, Escueta records a found sculpture he discovered in a market: invoking a street deity with a tag like one found in frozen corpses in morgues.

The slightly glum photographs of his black and white light boxes evoke paranormal moments in commonplace settings. A duratrans lightbox of a photograph taken on the shore of a Mindoro beach shows the delicate tongue of a wave but is blurry like one might associate of a distant memory. It is also displayed vertically— a purposeful estrangement, which Escueta does to bring the focus back to the form. An attempt to deny sentimentality. In a diptych silver gelatin print he photographs a focused young man practicing tricks on his skateboard, in the manner of a private eye capturing a personal moment. Wires of electrical posts frame the picture. These electrical wires have become so fused to the Manila streetscape as to go unnoticed—that is, until one takes time or a photo and becomes aware of them. Presented as art, their mere intrusion denoting the inevitable reconnoitering of contexts. It is a conceptually layered visual pun on “FOCUS”. Espousing the latent potential of his subject and their ambivalent effects, Escueta enacts for his own time an inherent attitude, tempered with uncertainty, in the redemptive and transformative processes by which art can be fashioned from the ignored and disregarded.

On one side of the gallery Escueta captures an unassuming landscape that the artist encountered on one of his travels: a 15-foot cropped photograph with a man waving from afar. The photo is zoomed and blurry, and the only recognizable thing about him is his gesture. It seems that the photos here are treated as resemblances more than depictions between image and life. It depends heavily on our mental states; that we perceive these resemblances consciously or otherwise; and that resemblances account for the casual story underlying what the photograph allows us to see as expressions. However, in Escueta’s photographs most apparent, these resemblances have some drawbacks, two of which seem especially troublesome. First, besides resemblance and life being disparate, mere resemblance does not seem sufficient for understanding life (the whole picture). This is partly what motivates adding imagination to these resemblances to complete the picture. Second, While resemblance may give us a casual story behind the image, it does not explain by itself how something inanimate and insentient such as a photograph can be felt and be seen as sad, unless one also claims, as the ambivalent views advanced above does, that we imagine the photograph is sad, often animating it, imagining that the photograph itself is alive and possesses the mental states we see in it.

Whilst viewing photography by Jed Escueta it is difficult to ignore the insistent claims for the camera’s unique abilities to ‘record and reveal physical reality’ there is a need to counter the arguments of those who have dismissed his position as that of a ‘naïve realist’. In the subtle shift, for example, from claiming the photograph’s natural affinity to ‘unstaged reality’ to the description of its innate proclivity for the aleatory, ‘for fragments rather than wholes’, and for the fact of its inevitable incompleteness, there is the recognition that the photograph fundamentally transforms that which exists before the camera, and that in its inability — one might say its failure — to match reality, to match life, the photograph is revealed in its difference: ‘Its frame marks a provisional limit; its content refers to other contents outside the frame; and its structure denotes something that cannot be encompassed — physical existence. Thus if the photograph is — as Escueta claims at one point — ‘valid until life’, it is the potential ambivalence of that phrase that needs to be grasped.

This wandering artist has used photography as a form of visual note taking, as well as to document very fine uncharacteristic sights and moments he makes on his local walks and travels. The photographer is the habitué of the under layers of our common experiences.

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