The Imponderable Archive

By Natalya Hughes

Pbulished in Samuel Hodge, 7/1/2014


If an imponderable problem is one that cannot undergo precise evaluation, an imponderable archive might be one whose documents or whose data cannot be ascertained with precision, clarity or certainty. The pairing of terms suggests an ordered collection but one in which there are barriers to full comprehension. Something has gone awry in the collection, its retrieval, or gleaning. It’s as though a historically accurate story has suddenly been made into an opaque narrative or an absurdist joke.

Samuel Hodge’s Imponderable Archive consists of images appropriated from dating websites and re-shot in the artist’s studio/ apartment. The process of making begins with Hodge trawling the image mass contained in web-based archives: the collection of selfies, vanity shots and stand-ins, published by individuals on digital dating sites in order to ‘represent’ their publishers. From this mass few are selected by the artist because few resound for him. Of the gleaned images that have been re-photographed for the exhibition Hodge can speak to intuitive selections based of the image’s power and more frequently their absurdity.

In the movement from these carefully chosen sometimes already appropriated and doctored ‘originals’, to the photographs that feature in the Imponderable Archive, a translation has taken place. Lifted from their original context the works have been re-shot and re-constructed via the language of fashion photography (a genre which the artist is professionally familiar). As with all translations there are losses and there are gains.

In the photograph Untitled (2013), a young man sits on a couch with three women whose faces are conspicuously erased by voided blocks. Evidence of blatant erasure (rather than the cropping out) of accompanying women is common to many gay dating profile pics. The capturing of sitters in a domestic setting is also unremarkable, vernacular. The conspicuous deviations in Hodges shot are the qualities of light, the model sitters and fashion garments the sitters are draped in. The effect of these add-ons is curious. We are left with an image that is as seductive as it is ridiculous and unreasonable.

Similarly, in Dumb and Dumber (2013) two young men face the camera sporting hand drawn masks. While the reference images were mug shots featuring real individuals who employed black permanent marker to their faces (in an attempt to disguise their identities) Hodges photograph features two male models whose facial markings have been made by Chanel cosmetics. Like all the works in the exhibition, these photographs demonstrate an unexpected equation where absurdity plus glamour equals more absurdity. The presence of beauty does nothing to undermine the illogical nature of the scene to which it is enlisted. Its effectiveness is in its incongruity.

In the images Crutches (2013) and No Guts No Glory Hole (2014), it is erotica that is re-cast. Where Crutches seems to simultaneously beautify and mock a fetish for men on crutches, No Guts No Glory Hole applies a similar sentiment to an 80’s porn still, re-shot here with the artist’s assistant and Australian actor Murray Bartlett (of Sex and City and recent series Looking). The figures of No Guts are shown gazing with great seriousness through an obviously staged and severely exaggerated glory hole. In these works, as elsewhere in the exhibition, images chosen for their ability to represent and stand in for an individual and their desires are re-configured in a manner which questions their ability to do anything of the sort.

Hodges collision of fashion photography and vernacular forms does not exalt or ennoble either language, either content. An absurd humour infects both and makes the photographs silly and strange even where they are compelling and seductive, and ambiguous even where they are precisely chosen or constructed. That they can be all of these things simultaneously and incongruously) is an imponderable problem of the image. It is to this quality of images that Hodge’s archive speaks.