Atlanta-based photographer Maury Gortemiller’s work has a rare quality: his images render some of the most mundane scenes and pedestrian items with fabricated narratives and an essence of otherworldliness. Sometimes the product of meticulous planning and at other times more spontaneous and intuitive, his images offer snippets of information, just enough to peak your interest and leave you wanting more.
In his most recent series, Make Believe, Maury turned his perceptive brain to pages of Donald Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal. “I am interested in imagery paired with text – my two most recent series (Do the Priest in Different Voices and Breathe In and Disappear) feature significant amounts of text which in many ways alter the context and intentionality of the images,” he explains, adding “I’m also interested in and repelled by the current U.S. President.”
Throughout the series, Maury pairs seemingly disparate images with sentences plucked from single pages of The Art of the Deal in an effort to make sense of his country’s current administration. “I decided to study Trump’s first bestseller and attempt to undermine lyrically and visually his voice and presence,” he explains of the project’s inception. Through a process of “reconfiguring the text”, Maury scoured the book’s pages, combining and then tearing apart words until “a particular passage came to life”. In some instances, this process would happen first, prompting Maury to visualise his constructed narratives. However, at other times, the images existed first and the text was created with a pointed and deliberate approach.
While Trump’s personality and reputation form a considerable presence in the series, Maury explains how “the images and titles are not meant to refer specifically to the President or the current political climate.” Instead, the photographs embody the bravado and surliness of the book’s authorial voice while evoking human qualities he identifies as absent or lacking: “a capacity for wonder, humility and a recognition of one’s shortcomings.”
With captions such as “You Can Con the American People with a Smile,” and “One Night I Found Myself Stealing Wives,” the photographs are stylistically slick and consistent. Although completely heterogeneous in their locations, there is a serenity and wonder that connects each image.
This approach to subject matter and intent was born when Maury stumbled upon a copy of William Eggleston’s Democratic Forest in Off Square Books (Oxford, Mississippi) one afternoon in the 1990s. “I was immediately attracted to some of the more striking images,” he recalls. “However, what clearly held my interest were the seemingly ordinary images that appeared to deny the possibility of a photographic reading. Some subjects seemed inscrutable – I couldn’t imagine why the photographer decided to create the image, or what might have moved him to consider the scene as a photograph.” Although seemly a negative experience, Maury describes how it “suggested the possibility of photographs which project the stirrings of a personal, interior world onto the most utterly quotidian stages.”
With series such as Make Believe and Do the Priest in Different Voices (in which he evokes the comfort and trepidation he experienced via the pictures in his family bible as a child), Maury reveals complex personal narratives through his symbolic images. His subtle nods to contemporary culture coupled with his dark humour and astute wit create a portfolio of referential work.
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