#1024. The Enigma Project

By John Wilson | Art & Creativity

Jul 17

“Enigma – A person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand.” (Oxford)

A few years ago I got introduced to the work of Abelardo Morell, a Cuban American photographer and Professor Emeritus of Photography at the Massachusetts College of Art. He’s most famous for his “Camera Obscura” project which turns rooms into a camera obscura and photographs them. It was love at first sight. But then, our heroes are rarely as perfect as we think them to be. At the end of one of his galleries I encountered an image of a rather mundane object we all see and touch constantly. My immediate reaction was “Abelardo!!?? Is that the best you could do??? … I can do better.” Enter “Enigma”; an ongoing project to photograph this single object in Morell’s image in as many ways possible.

The images presented here are all of the same subject photographed under the same lighting conditions processed using the same technique with minor variations. What started out appearing to be a simple subject quickly morphed into a very complex, nuanced and elusive one with infinite variation and the capacity to change direction at will. What looked promising in the viewfinder more often than not became far less so on the monitor. What you see here is the distilled result of over a thousand exposures … to date.

Try to decipher them if you must (you know you will) or just enjoy them for their own sake.


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  • Paul Barclay says:

    “I can do better!”

    Famous, or infamous, last words if there ever were any for an artist. They usually lead to a “Quest”.

    I like the title for this series and your challenge to figure out what the object is. It’s a mundane item we see and touch constantly.

    From the images it has form and texture. It can probably be held without changing it.

    This is a worthy challenge.

    Your images are worthy abstractions of the object as well.

    Paul Barclay

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    So intriguing and clever, John! I totally subscribe to the practice of working in a series because it often produces the best results – which you have so aptly demonstrated with your images. There are so many different subjects that I see in your images that it’s hard to believe that I’m only seeing a single subject! Thanks for sharing.

    • John W says:

      You are welcome Nancee. Delighted you enjoyed them. They are a lot of work to create, but also a lot of fun.

  • John W says:

    Thank You Paul. Have fun … and look carefully at your environment.

  • philberphoto says:

    John, as they say in modernspeak: “this is so totally awesome”! Inspiring, too! ‘Nuff said!

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Otherworldly, John.
    So powerful while subtle.
    Made me breathless, worthy of an exhibition no doubt.
    And so close to what is called in Chinese ancient painting the”five blacks” mastering…
    I will try to print a few of them this Winter… looks simple, but I think it will be “the” challenge 🙂
    I love the idea to see if I can keep the impact intact in print…

    • John W says:

      Thank You Pascal. That is indeed high praise. I never thought of them as “Oriental”, but now that you’ve mentioned it, they do look a little like black brush paintings.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    most of these are definitely exhibition material!
    I’ve enjoyed them more every time I come back.

    The Teddy Bear is fun, the Bird looks as if will fly off and the Dancers look very much alive!
    My favourites are many of the asymmetrical abstracts including the”Dancers”.

    Your technique makes me think of Indian ink and charcoal…

    ( Deciphering them? At first I was very curious, but it quickly lost importance as I began to really look.)

    • JohnW says:

      Thank You Kristian. This subject is so slippery that almost anything it produces is a surprise. The goal of the technique was to produce that charcoal drawing effect and took a lot of futzing around to work out and do consistently. A lot of work, but also a lot of fun. Glad you enjoyed them.

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