Too often we neglect to think about the Photoshop tools used to create these effects: a lasso, an eyedropper, a stamp, a rubber eraser, a pointed-finger smudge tool. Each has a real-world referent that implies a physical interaction, and it is this implication, so easily ignored, that Blalock wishes to disclose: “The general use of technology to ‘adjust’ what you’ve captured,” he writes, “sets up a new territory to touch.”
Bodies don’t only interact with objects, and photography can convey “friction” in more ways than the digital means outlined above. If Blalock wishes to preserve, or reintroduce, “friction” into the world of digital-image editing, his impulse for doing so is similar to that driving his choice of objects—often the kind of mass-produced items found in a 99-cent store. How can photography “develop relationships to the objects that frustrate their reading as commodities and, in turn, pull them into another sense of economy”? Here he’s pursuing bigger and more challenging quarry. Does he wish for photography to disrupt the capitalist drive toward a frictionless environment in which objects, bodies and money circulate without impediment? Professional photographic images, the vast majority of which are meant to smooth those flows, are central to that process. It’s hard for artworks, which are themselves commodities no matter how cleverly conceived, to frustrate the commodity status of the objects they depict.
In the world of digital media, one way to arrest attention is to create something perverse, or strange, or funny, or that iterates subtly and fascinatingly. Blalock is good at the perversely strange and funny.
Instead, a simpler statement of purpose might pertain to attention. In the world of digital media, attention is an “economy” that translates directly to money, and one way to arrest attention is to create something perverse, or strange, or funny, or that iterates subtly and fascinatingly. Blalock is good at the perversely strange and funny, as attested to by one of his recent subjects: hot dogs. The artist’s latest series of photographs, exhibited last autumn at White Flag Projects in St. Louis, Missouri, seems like the first full step away from the manipulated still lifes for which he is best known. The show—rather wittily titled “Late Work”—presented nine works, each of a group of hot dogs resting on a seamless white backdrop. (There were no buns.) Through careful variation of lighting, angle, focus and, of course, frankfurter placement, Blalock created photographs that were as mesmerizing as his earlier work—and without the obvious digital manipulations.
I could discuss how some arrangements call to mind post-minimalist sculpture: Box and Circle (both 2014) look like Walter de Maria stopped by the convenience store on his way to the studio. But who wants to expend intellectual energy on pictures of hot dogs? Instead, notice how Blalock has carefully reworked the terms of his earlier photographs. The hot dogs—subtly sweating, with irregular skins and wrinkled ends—interact both delicately and forcefully. They are bodies that do the touching for us (though their weird, naked surfaces still induce a desire to reach out a hand). And the restrained way Blalock photographs them—no distractions from the pile-ups—parallels the restraint he employed while editing his earlier still lifes. There are many ways in which these pictures are wrong. This is high-end product photography for products rarely seen so unadorned. The friction between our expectations and the reality of Blalock’s depiction, to say nothing of the subject’s textures, generates a certain kind of heat. Just what is going on with the three hot dogs on the right-hand side of Six (2014), anyway? And why does a photograph with that title only depict five weiners?