My work Red Sun is directly inspired and informed by several bodies of Robert Rauschenberg’s prints and collages from the late 1960s to the 2000s. I began to study Rauchenberg’s work from a photographic perspective after moving to California in 2014 and conducting research for my own photographic collage work exploring the epic scale of the ongoing construction and destruction of the American West. A specific point of reference is Rauschenberg’s series of lithographs Stoned Moon (1969–70). Rauschenberg traveled to Cape Canaveral to witness and photograph the Apollo 11 launch to the moon. The final lithographs present an expanded physical, sensory, and metaphysical experience of viewing the launch, which would mark the first time a human being stepped off planet Earth and onto another celestial body.
The primary photographic documentary subject of Rauschenberg’s trip to Florida—the rocket—was just one visual element in his collages, which also include photographs he shot of the immense launch structures looming over the swampy landscape, close-up nature photos of birds nesting in the nearby marshes, and found commercial photos of orange groves as state symbols and product advertisements. Rauschenberg collapses the hierarchy of all this content, both found and made, connecting the global event to the immediate physicality of our bodies and the quick synaptic shifts of our attention. The results elicit a deeply human and empathic awareness to an event too large to conceive as a single representational moment.
A series of location and studio-based photographic works and films, Red Sun explores the catastrophic and transformational properties of fire. The work-in-progress is a response to the 2017 wildfires in California, the most destructive in the history of the state. A dominant feature of contemporary digital culture is seeing, watching, and reading about significant global events—such as fires, floods, and hurricanes—in real time, from anywhere in the world. Since Susan Sontag’s On Photography was published in 1977, there has been an ongoing debate surrounding the conditions in which photographic images bring us closer to the pain or joy of others and the conditions in which they push us away. Red Sun is a struggle with the language of photography in the orbit of a disaster.