In George H. Eckhardt’s pre-internet publication Electronic Television (1936), the American mechanic discusses the potential for transmitting a coded image via a telegraph. His proposition was to divide the picture into a grid and mark each square with a number that corresponds with a coded grayscale colour scheme. The result would be an accurate rendering of the original image.
Along with many other references, which range from Claude Shannon’s theories on information and communication, to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Eckhardt’s concept formed the framework for Brighton-based photographer Clare Strand’s The Discrete Channel with Noise — an experiment into visual communication and misinformation.
Much of the work was produced during Strand’s residency at the Centre Photographique d’Ile-de-France (CPIF), Paris, in 2017. Acting as the information receiver, the photographer asked her husband, the information transmitter, to choose ten images from her archive of collected photographs at home in the UK. Using Eckhardt’s methodology, the images were transmitted from England to France, where Strand painted them onto a large scale version of the same grid. The result is 10 analogue images, which, in their embodiment of the inevitable miscommunications that occur during the process, raise questions about the consequences of misinterpretation in today’s digital world.
Following a lauded exhibition curated by Susan Bright for PHoto España 2019, Strand has been nominated for the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize. A recreation of the exhibition, which includes five of the original photographs and corresponding paintings, along with the brushes and pots used during the transmission, will go on show at The Photographers’ Gallery (TPG), London, tomorrow, alongside other nominated projects by Anton Kusters, Mark Neville and Mohamed Bourouissa.
“The process is as important as the paintings and the photographs, hence the exhibiting of the pots and brushes,” says Strand. Along the left wall of her installation at TPG is a cabinet of paintbrushes, and ten pots of greyscale paint lined up in colour order. The paintings look entirely different in person than when seen on screen. Firstly, they are huge — at least ten times the size of the original photographs that line the opposite wall — and the tactile quality of Strand’s brushstrokes are far more apparent in real life, intensifying the importance of the artistic process that precedes the final conceptual outcome of her work.
“The utilitarian aspects to the work are important,” says Strand, explaining that the works are not presented as professional paintings: they are unglazed, composed on paper rather than canvas, and stapled onto trays. “They are not pretending to be anything other than the process.”
Known for projects such as The Betterment Room – Devices For Measuring Achievement (2005), Skirts (2011), and The Entropy Pendulum and OutPut (2015), Strand has often centred her work on investigating the medium of photography itself. “My practice is more of a shapeshifting puzzle than an anchored set of interests and possibilities. Anything can trigger a sudden intuition or a long-buried interest and the process and outcome start changing shape naturally,” she reflects. “Ideas exist over surprisingly long periods of times until, without warning, one idea pushes itself to the front – much like a back-marker in a race surging on to win.”
The Discrete Channel with Noise by Clare Strand will be shown as part of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2020 exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, from 21 February until 07 June 2020.