Gordon Stillman
Statement 2014


Images captured digitally sometimes fringe around the edges, turning purple or green. They are magnificent colors, but it has to be erased or it will be a mistake. But I like mistakes.

The image I took was perfect until I looked at it again on a computer screen. Then I realized it was not perfect, only the discovery of the subject in the world provided a perfect moment. You had to be there to see and experience what was photographed because the image did not capture the moment of discovery and how the light and subject led me to make a picture.

Every image seems perfect when I take it, this is the joy of finding photographs in the world. The joy is in finding images of the overlooked and documents of living––the unplanned, forgotten, improvised, and shared actions of people.

Frustration enters the process when the photograph does not do everything I want it to, when I realize it is inadequate or incomplete. Not every image can be perfect. The perfect image is rare, and it is not perfect, but shines. And I have to search for that image. Search and search and search and discover it on occasion.

An image shines as a finished piece on the wall. The discovery of the image in the world was exciting and momentous (momentous in the sense that it seemed like a perfect image of what I was looking for at that time) and it continued to be that way on the computer screen and on the wall.

Furthermore, it shines as a discovery and as a finished photo because it demonstrates an equivalence with the world being lived in. There is something that transcends itself when the image is shiny; whether it is the light, or the surface, or the subject (ie trash shining as something not discarded, but beautiful or redeemed somehow). If it is the shiny object (literally shiny or analogously shining) in the photograph then the object operates as a reference to the way it was captured (photographically), to the world and human interactions.

Images that shine document objects through which their past is shining or through which the present is shining. The objects through which the past shines are usually marked with age and traces that have dulled the object’s surface, but their history is shining and seductive, requiring documentation. When the present shines, the images I see are a discovery of something unique about the present that can continue to exist in the present in the photograph. This discovery reinforces the joy of finding shining images that reinforce reasons for action, for living, for redemption and for creating new meaning in the world. Moving between the past and the present is necessary and not getting lost in one without the other.

Light makes objects shine, but some objects shine through the light.

Photographing, editing, and then displaying provides different opportunities for different images. Images can be hugged or massaged to create a shining thing. They can be recovered––images that are too seductive or uninteresting. Used as tools to search and discover new images. Mistakes lead to new and unexpected meaning.


I photograph in cities. I am interested in lived in spaces, passed through spaces, used and disused.

When I move through a city, I either move fast, bouncing from one (usually little) subject to the next as I discover them, totally absorbed in the act of photography. Or I really slow down and just wander and admire a larger environment, absorbed in a singular activity. When I move slowly I photograph less often and am more concerned with making sure I see everything and I wait for photographs to happen. This is a navigation between a decisive moment to photograph and a decisive moment not to photograph––when to capture every opportunity and when to wait for the image to appear.

I am interested in what is swept under the rug, in what is removed. How plans go awry. I want plans to go awry. I am not interested in the part of a city that is swept completely clean. That presents an impossibly pristine facade. A facade that runs the risk of squeezing out everything interesting. A facade that provides the same food, the same clothes, the same soap, the same furniture, and provides these same things in every city.

I navigate the city like the subjects that I am attracted to photograph. The subjects are distant, in between states, and waiting for a new use. Looking for new meaning. I am looking for every detail and object, in a photographic zone in my head, trying to make the strange unstrange and vice versa.

Things that are too shiny probably get cleaned too much. There is no trace of anything, no history, no accidents. And they always shine the same way and are empty and homogenous inside. This shine represents displacement and over planned commodities and desires that lead no where.

But photographs that shine are rare.

New buildings are built on top of old ones, people are priced out of neighborhoods and move and people are trying to move to the most desirable neighborhoods. Displacement is important.

Documenting loss is important. Movement and loss. Especially as these rapidly escalate.


The display cannot be too clean. Maybe the wall shouldn’t be painted in between installations. The installation is dependent on the space.

The surface of water is constantly moving, you have to keep your focus on its surface to see its present form. It shapes and is shaped by its container. Concentrating on every ripple, shimmer, wave, foam, or floating object as it moves on to new forms through space and time. Water is an easy thing to see how you can stay in the present by skimming the surface to detect every new form it takes, but it is also a surface that is seductive and dangerous and one that is easy to get lost in. Where the water is shallow it becomes transparent, colored by light and anything in the water. When it is shallow you can also see life and objects through the water, but the water refracts light, while the surface reflects light, distorting the object you see. Even shallower water, such as puddles in a city, collect oil, soak trash, smooths surfaces, and makes them shimmer; every surface begins to shine with light––sometimes barely perceptible, other times blindingly.

The way the images are installed, how they relate to each other represent different constellations of thought to be traversed by the viewer. As with water, the shape of the container determines the shape and possible views of and through the space. Different possibilities of discovery and meaning emerge through different views, images, and spaces.

Photographs on the wall, on the screen, ripped, protected, crumpled. On the ground, in the air…

Each photograph requires a different treatment. I transfer the objects I photograph off the wall and crumple them or protect them according to the way I see them. I try to combine my joy and frustration in sculptural objects. Embracing seductive images, crumpling sentimental images, and always trying to find shining images.

It has to be a surprise.


Photo monuments to ruins, of ruins, for future ruins. Everything is temporary. And I am interested in things that show this and recognize this. But I am not interested in buildings that are made to be thrown away––not to last. Buildings that are made to last generations contain more information. Traces, lives, things. Maybe there is more care put into construction. An affirming attempt at permanence worth living for.