A Window on an Inner World: Kate Joyce’s “Metaphysics”

March 11—There is a fine line between documentary photography and art photography. Elevating direct photography, with little manipulation, to a form that resonates with a cohesive, ethereal aesthetic can have a lot to do with the angle of shot, available light, and the context, or space, where the we photograph.

As abstract and ephemeral as local photographer Kate Joyce’s images appear in the Metaphysics series, they are neither obscure nor misleading. They are essentially straight planes taken from a singular point of view. For this work, the confined space of an airplane’s window seat was a constraint on his movements, and the surrounding seats a constraint on his line of sight, reducing his attention to the space between the window and the curvilinear structure of the interior of an airplane and the rows of seats in front of it.

Metaphysics, which can be viewed at SITE Santa Fe until April 22, is the culmination of seven years of photographing aircraft interiors from what has become, in essence, an in-flight studio, however limited- he.

“I was very determined to get the window seat,” says Joyce, who created the body of work on routine commercial flights between 2012 and 2019. one if he would change with me.”

You might spot a human element in some of these photographs: a woman’s platinum hair falling in ringlets over her shoulder, the purple fabric draped over an arm bent at the elbow. But you can’t see the faces.

Curiously, it may be an experience as isolating as it is intimate. Being so close to others for hours on end and still being a stranger.

“That’s where that existential title comes from, which is Metaphysics,” says Joyce, who is in her early 40s. “It’s intimacy in a space where we’re not supposed to care how close we are, and it’s this cheating of our nature, just by virtue of these aerodynamics and flight mechanics in the first place. To me, that touch on the material and the spiritual.”

There is a stillness in these images, a hushed silence suggested by their enveloping darkness, which is broken only by the ribbon, like the pupil of a cat’s eye or the reflection on a narrow knife blade, of the space filled with light. This ribbon is a consistent pattern, as it is what Joyce could see with her camera from the confines of her seat.

“Light has this special quality,” she says. “As we know, the interior of an airplane cabin is pretty unsavory. The lighting is pretty terrible for the most part. And it’s sterile. I’ve found that in that space between the seat and the window, there’s such a contrast between the sunlight from the outside in. But it obliterates, through exposure, the rest of the cabin. That’s where we get these really dark shadows because that I just expose to the sun.

Joyce, who comes from Santa Fe, has spent more than 25 years as a photographer. She studied photojournalism at San Francisco State University and documentary photography at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies in Durham, North Carolina. His photographs appear in several books, including Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe (Museum of New Mexico Press, 268 pages, 2009), which was co-edited by Mary Anne Redding and Krista Elrick, and author Michael Petry’s Nature Morte : Contemporary Artists Reinvigorating the Still Life Tradition (Thames & Hudson, 288 pages, 2016). More recently, she created Metamorphoses (Special Problems Press, 672 pages, 2021, $20), a collection of photographs taken in Chile while Joyce was traveling alone as a teenager. After 20 years, she found an affinity between the photographs and the work of the Roman poet Ovid, who lived during the reign of Emperor Augustus and whose most famous work is Metamorphoses, a continuous mythological narrative written by the meter. classical epic poetry.

The photographs are accompanied by verses by Ovid, translated from Latin by Andrew Berns.

On Friday, March 11, Joyce is signing copies of the book at SITE Santa Fe, where she’ll be joined by Berns and local DJ and REMIX Audio Bar co-owner Justin Ray for a multimedia presentation of Metamorphoses. The event includes a presentation of Joyce’s photographs, a soundscape created by Ray, and stories from the book.

Unlike the various black and white photographs in Metamorphoses, much of which resemble street photography, the images in Metaphysics are more like a typology. That is to say, it is a work developed on a coherent subject – the view from the seat of the airplane – and all the variations consist in the differences between the qualities of light, the colors , contrasts and textures.

“Whether I was flying from Chicago or São Paulo, there was something extremely engaging about the flight itself that was such a surprise. I was thinking of two types of photographers. I was sort of between being more of a documentary street photographer and then working for a photography studio in Chicago, where everything was much more controlled. The window seat, for me, became a combination of both.

Initially, Joyce was interested in views from airplane windows before aiming her camera at their interiors. Shooting in a barren environment, where not much exciting happens until the pilot announces a descent or an attendant passes by with refreshments, meant capturing small moments gleaned from across that cramped space until to the rows to come.

And they’re subtle, drawing our attention to contrasts of light and shadow, glimpses of colorful fabric-wrapped arms and shoulders, the curvilinear sweep of a window’s plastic frame, and the curved hull of the plane. . Without introducing post-shot distortion, it finds an abstract, impressionistic quality that is almost dreamlike in its beauty.

Pull the quote

“Before that, I had chartered planes. I was particularly interested in the Midwest and that landscape because melting snow becomes water on the Earth’s surface and sunlight reflects off that water. C It was a failed project. But I feel like the essentials happened in these photographs.”

Her original idea, she says, was to look at the ground to see the sky or the sun through reflections. By turning the camera inwards, the idea was to capture light bouncing off people and interiors.

“I feel like it saves me from an otherwise dark experience,” she says. “They remind me of Caravaggio. I use that window light and high contrast more like in a painting than in a photograph.”

Yet light, as seen by the camera, is manipulative. We don’t see the interior of an airplane with the same degree of high contrast, for example, as if we were in a darkened room looking through veils of translucent fabric, softening all but a single clear sheen. This touches on a limitation of the photographic medium, which Joyce exploits.

“I work with a digital camera but I expose like it’s film. I don’t have as much leeway with my exposure. It’s as real as it gets, but it’s also unrealistic.”

Betty K. Park