Rule Breakers: Carla Gannis

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Rule Setter: Roger Thompson, Senior Editor, Don’t Take Pictures
Rule Breaker: Carla Gannis

I never want to see another digital collage. Should a body of work be called “photography” if the final object is a collection of cut found or magazine photographs? If one stitches yarn through a photograph and then applies stamps to it, is it still a photograph? Or is it mixed media, or something entirely different altogether? The rise of digital photography has added new layers of complication to the photo-collage medium. When a piece is made entirely of digital artifacts and computer-generated imagery (and it has no clear referent to the historical processes of photography) I often find myself resisting acceptance of the rapidly expanding universe of creators. While I like to imagine myself as broad-minded, I also yearn for clarity and a firmness of definition. I want to know, ultimately, where to place in my mind the work of a particular artist—even if I situate them in multiple places at once.

I draw attention to Carla Gannis’s series, After Arcimboldo. Using digital media, she creates collage portraits that reference the surprisingly anachronistic surrealism of Italian Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo—work that imagined figures as composed of items like fruit, vegetables, books, and utensils. Gannis has taken his notion and layered it, providing a depth of vision that makes her figures neither representational, nor surreal, nor even abstract. Indeed, in her use of light, they might be more Renaissance than anything. They seem alive, vibrant with purpose and as alluring as a new lover. When standing in front of them, I lost all care for which the media’s technical definition, and found myself wishing that others who experiment with digital collage would consider the light of Gannis’s work as a beacon for what might be possible if definitions are set aside altogether. When I viewed the series, I only cared about the beauty of them, and all those messy questions about the boundaries of art fell away. With that, so too did my distaste for the digital collage experimentation that, before Gannis, seemed to have been excessive. It now seems necessary as the progenitor of Gannis’s accomplishment.
—Roger Thompson