27 Oct - 19 Nov 2004


Scrutinising Karina Grundy’s Snapshots
Exhibition Text by Varga Hosseini, 2004

I’m sure my customers never think about it but these snapshots are their little stands against the flow of time. The shutter’s clicked, the flash goes off and they’ve stopped time just for the blink of an eye. And if these pictures have anything important to say to future generations it’s this: I was here, I existed, I was young, I was happy, and someone cared enough about me in this world to take my picture1. – One Hour Photo

Photography’s ability to isolate particular moments of time2, along with its pervasive use within the various contexts of daily life, and the social and psychological motivations behind its employment are among some of the themes that Karina Grundy engages with in her recent body of photographs, Snap-shots.  In tackling these tantalising topics, Snap-shotsendeavours to confront photography’s claims to veracity, and in doing so, draw attention to the lack of ‘truth’ in snap-shots and their removal from the continuity of time and space.

Prized Moments: Photography and Death

One of the primary preoccupations of Grundy’s latest compilation of photographs is investigating what she calls “the culture and psychology of the ‘snap-shot3; that is, the way subjects perform before the camera knowing the role the photograph will play in constructing a personal and collective mythology. 

            A greater degree of complexity and paradox underlying this work is the relationship between photography and death. For Grundy, one of the subconscious drives behind the obsessive production and consumption of snapshots is the curious relationship that photography has with anxieties related to ageing and mortality. In the wise and witty words of Roland Barthes, the photograph “produces death while trying to preserve life

The nexus between death and photography joins a list of other inter-related concerns, which underpin Grundy’s Snap-shots; these include the effect that certain types of snap-shots bear on future generations’ perception of the past; the powerful ability of photographs to manufacture staged or overtly positive images of individual and family life and, subsequently, conceal the dramas behind their constructions.

Suburban Splendour: Photography and Banality

Grundy’s photographs are the results of an intriguing methodology that questions the constructed-ness of snap shots, the sense of theatricality and performance that haunts every one of them. 

Scrutinising the prints that comprise Snap-shotsmay seem analogous to flicking through a portion of someone’s photo album: individuals of varying ages are captured standing, seated, crouched, posing before the camera in a variety of contexts. Some of the subjects in these portraits face the lens and return the viewer’s gaze with a smile, or alternatively a cool air of insouciance. Others look away, gazes averted, preoccupied in their work, consumed in thought. If the title of Grundy’s sample of images is any indication, then the itinerary of subject matter in Grundy’s Snapshotsis familiar, banal, mundane. That is to say, the activities and the sites arrested by Grundy’s camera are not foreign or exotic to me.

I find an odd, bitter-sweet beauty in these photographs… in their ordinariness, their banality, in the demographic of subjects and the seemingly serene and blissful vision of life, which they conjure. Ironically and perhaps the nature of snap shots is that I know nothing of the lives or histories of the places or faces construed in these images; they only furnish me with specks and surfaces of insight.

Masquerades: Mimicry, Performance and Photography 

The images Grundy collates and exhibits under the title of Snap-shotsmay appear to deliver what their label suggests.  Snap-shotsseems to encapsulate the ‘look’ or ‘style’ of Grundy’s images, their apparently amateurish visual sensibility, coupled with their array of subject matter. However a colloquial, commonplace like Snap-shotsis a somewhat misleading moniker that downplays the complexity of Grundy’s images and the way they are rigorously (re)conceived. For Grundy’s photographs are not entirely her own, nor are they carefree, slap-dash or the work of a novice.  All of the photographs in Snap-shotsare careful, painstaking re-enactments or reproductions of snap shots Grundy has selected from each of her subjects’ family albums.

An interactive and theatrical facet drives the (re)production of Grundy’s photographs, with the artist assuming a directorial approach and guiding her subjects to re-enter the frame of mind they were in when the [‘original’] snapshot was taken The reproduction of a snap-shot outside of the time and context it was taken, clearly entails considerable distance from the chosen photograph. Consequently, an interesting tension underlies Grundy’s production process, a taut negotiation of interests, where the artist endeavours to reconstruct her chosen images to the last possible detail, but simultaneously refrain from intervening or impinging too closely on her subjects’ performances.

            In re-staging and re-shooting other peoples’ snap-shots Grundy seeks to highlight the ‘fictive’ character of snap-shots; the, “psychological reaction and performance people give to the camera” 5. With James(2003), for instance, it is telling that at the time this snap-shot was taken, ‘James’ (returning from work overseas) and his partner were on the verge of an impending separation. However, the smile-and-sunshine expression carved out on James’ face for the camera masks the awkwardness of their reunion. And this is perhaps Grundy’s point when she claims, “snap-shots are more indicative of either the subject or the photographers desired moment, rather than the reality; a falseness not likely to be challenged by later viewers who are expecting entire albums of smiles and pleasantries, not the more painful human emotion” 6

Respectively, by recreating the prized instances, the so- called ‘Kodak moments’, plucked from the albums of her models, Grundy’s snap-shots address the virulent spread of photography to all aspects and contexts of daily life and, more importantly, examine the subconscious factors that stimulate picture-taking. In scrutinising Grundy’s fascinating Snap-shots, one is perhaps reminded of the strange and elusive character of photographs, and their ability to “trade simultaneously on the prestige of art and the magic of the real7 as objects of fantasy and units of information.

Varga Hosseini

1 One Hour Photo(motion picture) 2002, Fox Searchlight Pictures.   

2 N. Mirzoeff, ‘The Age of Photography (1832-1982)’, in An Introduction to Visual Culture, Routledge, London and New York, 1999, p.69.  

3 K. Grundy, Project Description(Unpublished document), 2003, p.1

4R. Barthes, Camera Lucida, Vintage, 1993, Pp.14-15, p.72 & p.92

5Pers. Comm., Interview with the artist, 13/12/03

6Pers. Comm., Interview with the artist, 13/12/03

7Op. Cit., Sontag 1977, p.69.