In his films, Scottish artist, filmmaker, and musician Luke Fowler explores the conventions and boundaries of biographical and documentary genres. Little-known or forgotten material from audiovisual archives forms the basis for his portraits of fascinating and often scintillating personalities from alternative cultural scenes, including, for example, the Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing (1927–1989) and the English composer Cornelius Cardew (1936–1981).
What lies behind Fowler’s photographic output is his approach to analog techniques. Light reflexes, underexposure, overexposure form, among other photographic flaws and a certain amateurishness, part of the artistic strategy by which Fowler counteracts the seductive appeal of consumerist high-gloss aesthetics. “Perfect Lives” consists of 20 analog color photographs shot between 2013 and 2015. These photographs show images that Fowler took while strolling around the urban environment, waiting to deliver a talk, drinking in a bar, visiting a church, a travel agent, or a park.
Luke Fowler describes his approach as follows: “The images I photographed were taken by amateurs and professionals to represent a variety of commercial, architectural, or social uses of photography (I refer to the photograph here as an image in physical space rather than in the digital realm)—they function as acts of surveillance, shaming, as simulation, or politically projected space, as reproduction etc. I extended my criteria to include the use of the photograph or other graphical representations of space as a source for art (e. g. the map, the photo-realist painting). On my travels I noted how photography is used around the city as a banner of longevity—archival images on corporate or municipal buildings consecrate the agency as good, honest, and reliable (not to mention a nostalgia for simpler, pre-global times). The photograph as simulacrum in these instances completely obscures current transnational capitalist operations—not to mention an understanding of the historic.”(1)
This seemingly plan-less creative process contrasts with the artist’s prescribed arrangement of 20 photographs illuminating minimal narrative strands. In his eschewal of conventional narrative structures, Fowler sensitizes the viewer to the quotidian and the purposeless, to the alienated and the ephemeral. For it is along these fault lines that, for Fowler, the history of everyday things and our approach to them unfolds.
(1) Luke Fowler, email to the author, October 16, 2019.