The Photo-Composites of Jim Kazanjian

by Chas Bowie


            In a letter to Émile Zola, penned in the damp Parisian winter of 1882, struggling writer J. K. Huysmans announced his wholesale rejection of naturalism in the contemporary novel. Alerting his mentor to the cultural transgressions and structural anarchy of his upcoming book, À rebours, Huysmans informed Zola that his soon-to-be scandalous novel would be “a wild and gloomy fantasy.”


            Jim Kazanjian’s fantastic landscapes are similarly wild and gloomy affairs, and much like À rebours (which Kazanjian cites as an influential text), Aberrations upends our conventions of naturalism. Drawing further literary influence from the macabre atmospherics of “weird fiction” authors H.P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood, Kazanjian crafts a bleak pictorial universe of smoldering dead suns, crumbling labyrinths, and claustrophobic spatial impossibilities.


            In the long, silvery tones of classical photography, “Untitled (Implosion)” depicts the climactic moment of a ramshackle building collapsing in on itself, crisply detailing the fleeting instant in which the shelter exists simultaneously as an immovable structure as well as a formless cloud of dust. A few feet from the base of the pyre, where chunks of cinder block and shards of plywood crash to the ground, a sinkhole inches its way into the picture, a gaping reminder of the earth’s own implosive capabilities.


            Kazanjian evokes a more chilling scenario of architectural terror in his geometric studies of  rain-beaten corridors and clammy dead ends. Superficially recalling the brisk angularity of De Stijl abstraction or the tangled secrets of Victorian gardens, “Untitled (Module)” and “Untitled (Maze)” envision sealed networks of concrete passages, designed to secure their (possibly extinct) populations in nightmarish states of inescapable futility.


            Like the decimated outpost of “Untitled (Implosion),” Kazanjian’s Aberrations occupy a state of material transience: None of the images qualify as photographs, yet each piece is entirely photographic. Built upon the persuasive testimonies of hundreds of anonymous snapshots and photo-documents, Kazanjian’s landscapes are entirely fictitious constructions. The photographs of Aberrations serve as souvenirs of non-existent places and events, even though their genetic codes are comprised solely of specific, exacting details of evidence.


            By recomposing photographs (rather than shooting them), Kazanjian liberates himself from the fastidious burdens of representation, although he remains tethered enough to exploit photography’s knack for maintaining its own honesty despite a track record that repeatedly suggests otherwise. In Kazanjian’s hands, this freedom from naturalistic vision gives way to an uncanny space that is familiar but foreign—a fantasy both wild and gloomy.