Cary Fagan’s images take on a new life as he translates them into puzzle format

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Created at the beginning of lockdown, timeless.goods is a collection of photographic puzzles seeking to provide some respite to Fagan’s isolating audience

How can you take something as visual as photography and transform it into physical form – something you can take apart and repiece? It’s a question that Houston-based photographer, Cary Fagan, has contemplated for a while. What if the construction of the images was placed into the hands of the viewer as, say, a jigsaw puzzle? Three years ago, Fagan mocked up a puzzle for friends to test out, using an image from a collection lookbook he shot for the fashion designer, Recho Omondi, in which three models huddle together, wearing matching outfits in bright, vivid colours. 

“I was confronted with the difficulties of choosing what [image] could be on a puzzle,” Fagan explains; not all his images, which often incorporate dark, indistinguishable space, would work. “Anything can be on a puzzle, but how would my audience feel when doing it?” he asks. After much trial and error, timeless.goods, as the project is titled, was unveiled in the early days of lockdown. The 20 puzzles range from 260 to 2000 pieces, and that same image from Omondi’s lookbook, Three, has been the bestseller to date.

Fagan infers that the photograph’s popularity could be down to its distinct pops of colour, which create helpful reference points. The image is also one of his most recognisable works, and was included in The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion by writer and critic, Antwaun Sargent, published in 2019 by Aperture, placing him firmly amongst an emerging legacy of young, Black photographers. As a rising artist, Fagan shot A$AP Rocky’s 2018 album cover, Testing; the image for the puzzle titled Chairs in Arcosanti was taken during a shoot with Solange in 2017. Fagan insists, however, the stories behind his images are more important than the accolades.

'Chairs in Arcosanti', 2017 © Cary Fagan
'0009999 puzzle, personal shot', 2020 © Cary Fagan

By translating his images into puzzles, Fagan weaves an integral part of his practice into this new medium. His preference for analogue film represents a contrast to the encroaching omnipresence of the internet, and with puzzles, that goes further. “Technology has really diminished how we communicate, and there’s now an opportunity to reconnect,” Fagan notes, with the wellbeing of his audience a central part to how timeless.goods grows. Photographs taken during an artist residency in Japan last year are the latest puzzles to be included: “People have been indoors for so long this year, so I wanted to give them images of nature to restore a sense of normalcy.” Little wonder that Deer Reborn, from that body of work, is another bestseller. “When I look at this, I feel both vulnerable and connected to nature,” he explains.

There’s a conscientiousness that resonates through the photographer’s lens; the same tenderness is afforded to the eyes of his subject as it is to a landscape. That attention to detail is also applied to timeless.goods. “All my images have stories behind them, but the ones I choose for timeless.goods must reflect the brand,” he explains. “What is a timeless good? It’s an image that is relatable.” 

For that reason, Fagan is looking to shoot more still life scenes; images like Bloodshed, which both recall traditional puzzle subjects and capture a moment in time that is so pivotal to his practice. In all, Fagan sees longevity in puzzles beyond 2020, a year disrupted by the pandemic. He is noticing a pattern of returning customers looking for more complex puzzles of up to 2000 pieces. For Fagan, that is the greatest achievement: “Time doesn’t exist – it’s about giving someone else power.”

'Portal, Back to reality', puzzle, 2020 © Cary Fagan
'Self-portrait, Las Vegas', puzzle, 2020 © Cary Fagan
'Yukina' © Cary Fagan

The timeless.goods jigsaw puzzles are available to buy now.

Mind & Body

Ellen Brown

Ellen is a writer interested in exploring art, photography and design in the context of broader political and cultural moods. She is also editor at NR Magazine, a fashion and lifestyle publication.