Untitled, 2014, c-print mounted on sintra, 48 x 72 in Many know of and have perhaps participated in the long-standing debate over the line between fashion and art photography. Wherever the line exists, photographer Erik Madigan Heck has not been helpful in making this distinction. Like many of the world’s most successful commercial/fashion photographers, like Guy Bourdin and Steven Klein, Heck manages to straddle aspects of both fields in his work; the basis of his rippling success in the fashion world being made evident by his colorfully bold, painterly, and often surreal images, that are as commercially eye catching as they are artistically striking.
Despite the self evidently artistic aspects of his commercial work, Heck feels limited as an artist by its demands. As he explained to Vogue magazine: “You start having to think about all of these necessities that clients have—you have to show the shoe, you have to show the watch, and because of that, you shoot differently.” Heck wanted to get back to the artistic roots from his younger days before his commercial success, “When you picked up a camera and you just got some dope images.”
Untitled, 2014, c-print mounted on sintra, 50 x 40 in
He has achieved this in “The Absorbed Tradition,” his recent exhibition of 13 large-scale pieces in the Lower East Side’s BOSI Contemporary. No brands, no watches, just vision. This is not to say that the pieces are completely detached from the watch and brand-laden work he is known for, but its artistic focus is evident by how far the vision is pushed. In some of the pieces, figures are merged into clothing and abstract form through infrared and thermographic-looking imagery. In others, colors and textures are so bold and elegantly arranged that the figure and image as a whole looks like a quilt.
The gallery also includes some black and white portraits that, while sensitive, do not cohesively fit in amongst these more colorful works that echo and distort commercial motifs, just as the commercial world echoes and distorts art motifs. The debate continues.Text by Paige Gittelman. Photographs from the opening by Lena Vassiliou.