Although he is an artist who produces photographs, the camera is the last and in some ways least-significant component of Erik Madigan Heck’s process for capturing an image, more of a technical necessity than a creative priority. This at least partially explains why Heck’s photographs – often of elegant female figures wearing intricately patterned clothing – tend to instead carry the visual presence of a lush painting or the sensuality of richly textured fabric.
While Heck began his career in editorial and commercial fashion photography, the appeal of his work’s art-historical sensibility has recently led him to exhibit photographs originally commissioned by clients such as Gucci and Miu Miu as artworks. The distinction between fashion photography and fine art photography – much like the distinction between lens-based mediums and painting – is negligible for Heck, who has called himself “a painter who works in photography.”
A selection of photographs from Heck’s first monograph, published last year by Abrams, is on view at Jackson Fine Art through March 17 in an exhibition that shares the book’s title, Old Future. Like his photographs, Heck’s process is startlingly old-fashioned: he only uses natural light, even when shooting inside, and digital postproduction is limited to coloring and flattening the image. This means, for example, that the Blue Morpho butterflies in Heck’s photographs for the fashion houses Lanvin and Etro are indeed alive, despite the surreal flavor they contribute.
The most striking photos in Old Future are dominated by oversaturated colors and a painterly sense of two-dimensionality. The bold black, white, and red tones of the wide-brimmed hat and high-collared coat worn by the figure in Muse (2013) flatten her body against a cerulean background, creating an almost geometric composition. A similar effect occurs in The Red Socks (2013), in which the white coat and skirt worn by a bent figure become abstract shapes floating above the titular hosiery.