Ink on Paper represents a temporary shift in Engman’s artistic practice from photographic documentation of environmental installation phenomena—records of processes and the passage of time—to a consideration of photographs themselves as an inherently false, mediated and distancing way to experience the world. By focusing not on outer constructions but on the photograph itself as a constructed challenge to perception, this new body of work continues Engman’s inquiry into the illusive and unknowable nature of reality.
Many of Engman’s images seem improbable but are encoded with evidence of their veracity. They are, in most cases, truthful in the sense that what is pictured in a final print is what the camera saw on its final shoot; they are “straight.”
In Ink on Paper, what a photograph preserves is limited: one view from one person, the third dimension of space, absent sounds, smells, and other contexts removed—all but perhaps 1/125th of a second gone.
This may sound like an indictment but it isn’t; it is precisely these qualities of photography that are compelling to Engman—the paradox of seeming to have but not having. They are deceitful, because all photographs are deceitful, but they are truthful in that they tell the truth about their deceit. One of the aims of Engman’s work is to reveal—and then revel in the deceit of images.
“Skew” is a term used in digital image manipulation, however, the works titled Skew and Double Skew have not been skewed with a software program; they are unadulterated “pure” images. They are skewed in the way that ordinary things appear skewed all around us all the time, mostly unnoticed. In these works, the frames and the shape of the images have been skewed to simulate perspective and mirror the naturally occurring distortion of ordinary sight. The viewer is irreconcilably displaced: in Skew, what is seen frontally seems to be the view from the right; in Double Skew, from the left and below.
For Engman, these works depend upon a kind of logic that tries to add up to a sense of wholeness. They are visualized expressions of ways of ordering the world—internally consistent, but in the end they are, and feel, empty. It is the emptiness that Engman is attracted to. “Logic”, he says, “can be beautiful even when built upon nothing at all.” This is, perhaps, the central ethos of his project as an artist.