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Tom Butler Brings New Life to Old Photographs

“I use these portraits as psychological clotheshorses to create grotesque and sinister scenarios, enabling me to project thoughts, fears and anxieties in an immediate and direct way and often with a macabre sense of humor.” -Tom Butler

tom butler the wild magazine

In this digital age, it’s not always easy to work with outdated and out of print material. When artists use materials such as Polaroids or Daguerreotypes they make a statement, they stand out. But at the risk of being called a “vintage-artist” or “backward artist” some are embracing the old, in a whole new way. For this year’s AIPAD photography festival, which took place between April 10th and 13th, Gallery Fifty One displayed work that directly challenges this idea of modern over archaic with augmented vintage photography by Tom Butler.

For the purpose of the exhibition titled Cabinet Cards, Butler contributed a series of 50 modified Albumen prints from the mid-19th century. Albumen prints were an affordable way for everyone to have their photo taken. It was affordable and not elitist. Perhaps this is what Butler is so interested in. In his statement, he admits to be “fascinated by the process of conspicuous visibility.” And there is nothing inconspicuous about his work. The people’s faces are clearly blurred and replaced by indefinite shapes or blocks of color.

tom butler the wild magazineTom Butler, Courtesy of gallery FIFTY ONE

According to the artist, these modifications allow for a space in which the viewer has access to the inner personalities of the subjects in the photographs. Sometimes, these inner workings are grotesque and sometimes they are beautiful. But Butler shows us a middle ground. He presents the beauty in the bizarre that we frequently like to hide. That’s what’s great about Butler’s work: he shows us what we don’t want to tell and, in doing so, democratizes, and universalizes the grotesque in time. It’s always been there so why not create beauty out of it?

tom butler the wild magazineLAUNCH GALLERY

text by: Michael Valinsky










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