Book Review: Signal Noise
By Kala Herh
Image modification is often seen as a highly misleading and artificial process to contemporary viewers. Aaron Rothman is challenging this perception. Through the use of technology to modify his images, Rothman fosters a dialectical experience that encourages viewers to perceive their surroundings in a different matter.
In an effort to upheave public perception of photographs, Aaron Rothman curates Signal Noise, which features his collection of equally vivid and unconventional photographs of Arizona deserts. The book also contains a thumbnail chronology, an introduction by Cassandra Coblentz, and an interview with Rothman himself. The images of the book — selected from Rothman’s work over the course of a decade — showcase the artist’s various photographic investigations.
Rothman is an Arizona-based writer and artist whose work aims to illustrate what cannot be directly observed, evoking a sense of feeling rather than of space. Rothman writes to Places Journal, “I’m interested in the distancing effects of memory — the gap between an experience and the way our minds give it back to us.” He uses a unique technique to do so: layering photos, erasing certain components, and possibly most importantly, amplifying the digital noise. Grounded in Rothman’s old childhood memories, Signal Noise encapsulates his experience with the American West, whether it be scorching heat or phantasmal horizons through images where the digital noise sibilates from the 2-D image and into the 3-D space.
In his 2014-2017 Wildflower series, a study on the cultivation of native plants overlaid by swaths of solid color, Rothman enhances the original copy in order to promote his initial impression of the flowers in the Sierra Desert. The synthetic disorder on the page translates the artist's interaction with the sun’s rays at the time of the photoshoot. Rothman removes the organic shadows and fills the void with unnaturally bright colors. The void itself serves to counter the sun’s blinding radiance.
Rothman builds upon this new way of seeing our environment — extending it beyond the single frame and into multiple images. In a three-photo foldout, Lightness (2013), Rothman displays an assortment of edits of the same take of a barren, jagged mountain. Rothman writes in Places Journal, “Smashing together multiple views is my way of obliterating the camera’s unitary perspective, which we have internalized as a true window onto the world.” His work is mesmerizing and strangely hallucinogenic; the gradual increase in exposure in the three images explores the inconsistencies of human perception.
The images throughout the book pull away from what is considered “contemporary landscape photography” employing digital tinting and color enhancement to clarify the message, and instead Rothman’s work moves the images towards obscurity. Rothman’s choice to use such techniques propels them into the erratic gray area, where anything goes.
The spontaneity and irregularity of which the desert flowers, mountain vistas, and rock formations intersperse in the book work to place the photos in the physical world while still casting doubt on what is real. Representation and abstraction coexist in one frame. The act of flipping through Signal Noise presents an introspection on our desire to connect with the natural world and in tandem, the limit to which we can do so.
Signal Noise by Aaron Rothman is published by Radius Books and is available here.