Elad Lassry, Untitled (Strawberry, Kids), 2013, C-print, walnut frame, 4-ply silk, 14 1/2 by 11 1/2 by 1 1/2 inches.

 

"The questions for me are about this very mysterious unit that is the picture—it brings on a set of assumptions and built-in ways of looking that I am in constant battle with," says artist Elad Lassry of his deceptively simple and highly conceptual work. The artist is the focus of a new show opening this week at New York's 303 Gallery (Sept. 12-Oct. 26), his first since joining the gallery's stable in March.

Hailing from Tel Aviv and living in Los Angeles, Lassry, 35, has created a body of work that deconstructs photography and the ways that viewers perceive and understand it. He aims to achieve that goal not by analyzing photographs semiotically, but rather by examining and playing with their physical reality. He wants to divorce photographs from their own "picturehood." Lassry is known for photographing everything from people to flamingos to teapots in a style reminiscent of vintage stock photography, posing his subjects in the studio against generic, brightly colored backgrounds.

At 303, Lassry is showing new work that differs from his past output in that it exclusively uses appropriated images, which he has then manipulated in various ways—whether by displaying multiple prints or encasing framed photographs in pleated silk.

The artist discussed the show, his artistic process, and why digital photography is the miserable victim of old scholars with A.i.A. via e-mail this week.

BERYL GILOTHWEST What can you tell us about the selection of work you will be showing at 303?

ELAD LASSRY
In terms of the pictures in this exhibition, I worked exclusively with sourced negatives, mostly acquired via auctions. I was interested in applying my investigation to material I have less control over. Part of this quest rolled over to the handling of these negatives once they arrived at the studio. It was clear to me that they had to go through a set of obstacles before becoming a work. I engaged in a series of absurdly analog techniques to reengage with the prints I made from the negatives. Some negatives were partly overexposed, some were punched with holes. Others were printed without interference, but later partially covered by a tailored casing and blankets.

GILOTHWEST
How has your prior work informed what is in this show and what will we see in it that is different?

LASSRY
I often exhibit pictures that I take in my studio that are a result of a mixture of my own accumulated "mental pictures" and collections of found archives. In a sense, I think of them as a new encapsulated archive that fits into a small frame. In this current series, I am trying to arrive at that condition through photographs that are already in existence. I was interested in this challenge as part of the search for the core of the photographic problem. That is, could these problems be articulated in photographic units in which decisions were activated by another source? This is not a question of appropriation or authorship, but rather the picture as a unit, something that potentially generates instabilities outside our control.

GILOTHWEST
Can you speak to the sculptural elements of your recent work?

LASSRY
It has been a core element of my work since the beginning. Perhaps I am using techniques that call more direct attention to it now, but the first works that I exhibited, back in 2007, dealt with the photograph as a sculpture.

GILOTHWEST
I was especially drawn to your incorporation of tailored silk as a frame or encasement of sorts in your new pieces like Untitled (Strawberry, Kids). Can you speak to the thought process behind that artistic decision and what inspired it?

LASSRY
In those pieces, I am referring to a marriage with the applied arts. Some of the negatives that I printed called to mind a modernist tradition, where considerations of the frame, as in composition, are crucial. When I thought about how I could intervene with the composition, a tension came to mind. I wondered what kind of effect the inclusion of something like a pleated silk, which is a domestic craft and not subject to technology, would have. Could the pleats become part of the picture? If so, what kind of new picture would result?

GILOTHWEST
Can you tell me about the relationship between analog and digital in your work?

LASSRY
Digital photography has become a miserable victim of old scholars. The core questions around the picture have little to do with the rapid technological changes that take place. These have always existed, in different forms and levels. For this exhibition, I avoided using any recent technology precisely for these reasons. I really wanted to arrive at my examinations from the back door. I don't believe that tension comes from the mantra that nowadays photos are so accessible and all that exhausting chatter.