Calling his approach “a little bit messy and experimental,” Matthew Brandt produces large-scale photographs through labor-intensive processes recalling the 19th-century origins of photography, often incorporating the physical matter of the subject itself.
Attuned to the history of his medium—and its resolute physicality—and inspired by classical American landscape photographs, Brandt traverses the West, photographing and collecting material samples from nature and cities. The reciprocal relationships that Brandt creates between his subjects and the materials used to represent them are always conceptually grounded, often in response to social and environmental issues. He is deeply inquisitive, even fearless, in his exploration of subjects, materials, and processes, reinvigorating the medium of photography with a sense of wonder. (Portrait courtesy of Graham Walzer)
When I first was approached with the project, I thought it was really great, and I was excited to get into it. It seemed fun and I loved the parameters.
I work pretty literally, a pretty straightforward kind of guy, so I took a picture of my glass of water. But I ended up taking a glass of water, taking the photo, taking maybe thousands of images over the course of a couple months—and what you’re seeing is the glass of water slowly evaporating.
You mentioned, earlier, the history of photography—I like to dig into that. I think a lot about Muybridge and human locomotion and all that stuff. I really like time lapse and that’s the first video I made thinking about that. Seeing that seems cool, but I also started to think about the experiments of Masaru Emoto, a Japanese scientist who I am sure will come up at some point. Generally, the idea is that if you expose the glass of water to different positive and negative thoughts, you can influence its matter—I think he would say positive words or negative words to different glasses of water, play music, show pictures even. He would then freeze the water and study the crystals—and he would determine that some bad words created ugly crystals or, vice versa, create pleasing crystals. That gets into a whole weird terrain of what determines ugly and what determines nice, but I thought that was an interesting idea in thinking about how you can have this sort of invisible force to influence literal water.
After I made the first video I ended up getting a certificate online for reiki and color therapy. For $20.99, I was able to take an online course in reiki, and then for an additional $10 I could get my reiki certificate—so it’s legit; I got my reiki certificate!
After I got my reiki certificate, I made another video. This is the second video I made—same parameters, same everything, except maybe a month or so later. You can see the difference is a fly got in there and some debris came down—so not much happened but I think that it was interesting to think about. For me, reiki had a similar pseudoscience vibe.
Still, I felt like there was something else that could have been done to this work, and I thought the videos were interesting but I tend to work in a process basis, so I made another video—which is thinking about the loop, and then putting them together, and thinking a little bit more about time. Essentially, they are the same videos, just collapsed in a different way and then using some fancy reversal things. (It’s not actually that fancy; I just flipped it in the program.)
I kind of project different ideas—I like landscapes and when I look at it I think about the gravitational pull of ocean tides. I was really into the lens that is created from the glass of water. When it’s full, you can see that there’s this bright light at the bottom left-hand corner.
For me that was really cool. I love this optical stuff, and I’ve tried to make lenses with glass and things, so these are little nuanced things that I got into. It became interesting to me because it came from a place of reflection—these lights became a kind of sunrise or sunset.
But the final form for me, which I think is cool, is that I ended up just making a GIF. The GIF is a really interesting format in and of itself, because it’s something that’s so familiar, and a way to try to correlate it with emotions and feelings. It’s this nonverbal way of communicating that we all have. I have a cousin who communicates only in GIFs—he’ll just send me a gif of a smiley face and I’m like, “I get it, okay cool, you’re excited about coming over.” There’s something visceral about GIFs and, I think, also inherently very creepy and uncanny. I think because you can take any kind of familiar video and make it defamiliarized in your eyes quickly just by editing it and repeating it over and over again. There’s something inherently weird about the GIF. But this is the format that I thought would be most appropriate with this virtual talk and what I came up with at the end of the day.
I thought the reiki idea was interesting. I’m very naive and didn’t know anything about it so that’s why I took the online course. For me it had a similar idea of trying to influence auras, thinking about this invisible energy, something that’s there, and on this level through praise or through some sort of invisible influence that I thought was interesting in thinking about Emoto’s work. Also, reiki has become this cultural thing that’s becoming more and more popular; I wanted to see what it’s about. It’s a way of exploring that territory and reiki for me was like this community, I suppose, that is embracing this and showing that there is a larger sociological aspect to this, and I think Emoto probably had a lot of influence on it.
It’s also all these little bits and pieces that are jumbled all over the place—I am just piecing things together—and also just things that are happening in my life. That’s what was nice about this project. It started, I don’t know, several months ago, so this is the course of what’s happening. At first it was like “oh, I’m just going to make a timeline video and see what happens to the glass of water; it’ll evaporate, we’ll see.” But then it’s like “oh wait!” and it drags out into what this is, if that makes sense.