Photographer, Matthew Brandt soaks his photos in an unorthodox chemistry. Because of this, his photographs carry certain challenges for art conservators.
The prints were thoroughly processed using all of the standard steps for chromogenic photographs and then were post-processed by immersion for varying amounts of time in water extracted from the body of water represented in the image. Soaking the print in water caused the partial destruction of the image layers, resulting in colorful abstractions of the original image.
Katherine Sanderson, Balancing Preservation Strategy & Artist Intent
Treatment of a Unique Chromogenic Print by Matthew Brandt
Best known for his Lakes and Reservoirs C-prints of bodies of water (mentioned above), Brandt also produced another body of work which garnered much less attention: photos of product containers and packaging.
He’s photographed Windex bottles, Comet cleanser cans, aerosol cans of Microwave Oven Magic & Plastic Cleaner Magic and a number of branded water bottles.
Usually he uses the contents of each container for the final “post-processing” step. Thereby showing us what happens when you apply household chemicals (instead of darkroom chemicals) to a photograph. (If lake water makes an art conservator’s job difficult, just imagine the archival impact of “oven cleaner” on a photo!)
No one has written much about these product photos. Hardly anything, in fact.
We pour over Brandt’s ‘product’ photos, after the fold…
Brandt made a series of Windex® bottle photos that are called his “Windex Scans.” I’m not certain where the “scanning” actually occurs in his process. (photo on right of Brandt holding a “Windex Scan” is by Luis Ruano from a 2013 article by Anna Harmon on Coldsmoke)
At first, I thought that the Windex photos might have been cameraless scans made on a flatbed scanner, since the bottles appear to be “actual size.”
The perspective of the image, however, is wrong for that. He would have put the bottle flat against the glass if he had scanned it. Instead, he must have made a “table top” photo of the Windex bottle and used the same shot in every print.
Perhaps he sprayed Windex directly onto the glass of a flatbed scanner and then scanned the bubbles. That would explain the differing arrangements of bubbles that overlay each image.
Clearly he used Windex in the “post-processing” of the prints.
One of Brandt’s “Windex Scans” in a bathroom from: An Art Lover’s Harmonious Home, Apartment Therapy, 2015
Auction sites may call them “Windex Scans,” but Brandt himself briefly refers to them as “Windexes” in the 2013 video above. (If the plural of “index” is “indices,” however, I wonder if “Windices” wouldn’t be more grammatically correct.)
Brandt also photographed Comet® brand cleanser. Here, as with the Windex Scans, Brandt applied the product directly to each “product photo.” Although, in this case, Brandt used a more abrasive cleaning product in the post-processing.
Brandt exhibited two other “Comet” photos in a 2014 group show in Mexico City.
Aside from auction listings, I found only one mention of Brandt’s packaging photos. And that single mention was in the press release for this group show.
Matthew Brandt, focused on connecting his subject to his materials, uses everything from bodily fluids, food, and chemical house-hold products to develop his work.
Of my Affection, Press Release, Anonymous Gallery, 2014
Brandt made another series of photos in 2014 focusing on two aerosol canned products. These two products were Plastic Cleaner Magic and Microwave Oven Cleaner Magic. Both were products of the Magic American Corporation.
The name of the series is “Can Scans.” I know this only from the Paddle8 website, where I also managed to find an explanation of his scanning methods…
Beginning with a photograph he shot of the cleaning solution—Plastic Cleaner Magic—Brandt scans the negative into the computer while simultaneously pouring the cleaning solution to cover and manipulate the negative… Brant then creates, mounts and encases a Digital C-print in a Plexiglass box where more Plastic Cleaner Magic solution has been poured.
Brandt’s own website makes no mention whatsoever of a “Can Scans” series. Neither is there any mention of his Windex or Comet series. At least, none that I could find. I can’t help but wonder, “Why the omission?”
Despite the fact that he photographed them just a couple of years ago, the aerosol cans look rather vintage. Brandt chose them deliberately, of course. Others have also appreciated the anachronistic stylings of those particular products.
Magic American has recently updated the packaging design of their entire product line. Nonetheless, at the time that Brandt photographed them they were not exactly antiques.
Finally, Brandt made a series of “Container” photographs as part of his Lakes and Reservoirs series. He appears to have found these discarded containers in the lakes and reservoirs that he was photographing. You can see hand-written notations on some of the bottles recording which lake they came from.
Purchasers of the “Collector’s Edition” of Brandt’s Lakes and Reservoirs book also received one of his Container photos.
This Collector’s Edition includes the book ‘Lakes & Reservoirs ‘ and one of these 17 unique prints realized by Matthew Brandt in 2014. Each of the 17 prints is titled Container, plus its unique number. Technique: unique C-Print, soaked in water collected from various lakes in the Western United States. Size: 11×14 inches. Each is signed and numbered by Matthew Brandt.
The Take Away
But what do these packaging photos mean?
According to the SCAD Museum, when Brandt soaks a photo in lake water, his “controlled technique mirrors the chemical composite of the photographed landscape and therefore symbolizes today’s ecological concerns about the deterioration of our natural world.”
When Brandt photographs a container, discarded in a lake, the take away is similarly ecological. (i.e.: Consumerism is bad for the environment.)
But when Brandt photographs Windex® bottles or cans of Comet® Cleanser in his studio, the critique is more cultural. These are product images that have been degraded not by nature, but by their own contents. It’s self-referential, but it’s also a kind of “self abuse.”
And since packaging is ubiquitous and anthropomorphic, we naturally identify more closely with a self-debasing packaged product than, say, a body of water.
If I were a wealthy art collector, I would certainly want to include some of these hard-to-conserve packaging photos in my collection.
If you, on the other hand, have the means to amass such a collection, please do give me call. I’ll be your curator.