Printmaker and painter Jane Hammond found her way into photography as a collector – or maybe “accumulator” is a better word. Frequenting flea markets, ephemera fairs, and online sites like eBay, Hammond searches for snapshots and found photographs that catch her eye, not necessarily because of the image itself, but because of a particular item in it – a clock on a table, a German shepherd, an airplane propeller. The snapshots may not be art, she said in a 2015 video for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but for her they are “art stimulating.” She has, by her estimate, some 15,000 photographs in her collection, some of which she’s taken herself, which she combines and re-combines into photocollages that are by turns fanciful and a little bit ominous.
“My whole practice begins with the idea that I have this library of information to draw from,” says Hammond. Sometimes she’s looking for one thing and winds up with another thing altogether. Searching online, for example, involves entering a linguistic search term, which doesn’t always mean the same thing to someone else. “Sometimes you get these nice surprises,” she says, “so the imperfections of the system work, too.” In The 55 Club, made up of 22 separate photographs, an oddball collection of variously injured children surround a downed airplane. A bald baby doll sits placidly in the passenger seat. One girl, her arm in a sling, holds a butterfly net. That girl happens to be Hammond herself, as a child, inserted into the piece, something she does often. (In one work from 2007, she inserted her own face into 116 found snapshots.) The airplane looks permanently grounded, but the possibility of flight is implied in the airborne swallows she’s carefully placed in the cloudy sky.
Such open-ended narratives abound in Hammond’s work, as well as a playful compression of time, a mixing of eras and places. She builds her images in Photoshop, then makes a negative of the collage and prints it, so it has the look and feel of a photograph. “There’s a certain set of assumptions we have with photography,” she has said, “that its internal elements were in a coexistent space – that they were all in the same sunlight, the same birds were singing in the same woods. I want to work within that conceptual realm, freighted with these assumptions.”
The 55 Club is just one of the collages on view at Galerie Lelong from
March 16 to April 22, along with a selection of Hammond’s “Dazzle paintings.” For these multimedia works, she selects a photograph, generally one that has a strong compositional element or an indescribable “frisson,” as she puts it, enlarges the image, then paints it onto a panel of mottled, variably translucent mica glued to a sheet of Plexiglas®. That sheet is placed onto a box-like frame 3¾ inches deep, and she fills that space under the image with “dazzle” – various sparkly materials including silver Mylar folded, origami-like, into different shapes, plastic jewels, or tinsel that she’s knitted together. It’s not a simple process: Hammond has made flow chart of the steps involved, and it’s 24 feet long. The resulting piece interacts in a peculiarly beautiful way with light, which flickers and glints off the surface depending on where the viewer stands. The combination of the found, often banal image with the glittery, shifting surface is transformative, as if our most ordinary, everyday moments were imbued with this magical potential.