Orit Raff: Priming

BY Jean Dykstra, November 19, 2014

Orit Raff, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, 2013. Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery

In Orit Raff’s photographs of rooms and interior spaces, on view at Julie Saul through December 6, beams of sunlight fall across a floor, and lamplight softly illuminates the corner of a bedroom. Light – that essential tool of photography – is a living, breathing entity in her works, creating the mood and setting the emotional temperature. But these images are not what they seem. For one thing, they are not photographs, and that evanescent light is a digital manifestation, not a record of the real thing. Raff fabricated these images entirely in a computer, using architectural and photo-editing software. The 13 works on view depict rooms or spaces in different novels, ranging from classics such as Madame Bovary to contemporary works such as Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.  They also play with conventions of photography in the oblique but thoughtful way that has characterized Raff’s work. 

Raff conjured these spaces with exacting precision after immersing herself in the novels, placing details like the rope clutched by the newly blind Jose Saramago’s Blindness, or the Bob Dylan poster and the Pepsi bottle in the room from Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Deftly borrowing visual tropes from architectural and documentary photography, she encourages us to read the pictures as facts. Then she slyly pulls apart the indexical character photography.

Orit Raff, Blindness, 2013. Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery

Raff’s previous series also explored space and architecture. White focused on domestic objects — a soap dish, a bathroom sink, a drain – and the evidence left there of human habitation. Mobius Strip depicted on the indentations in carpets and other surfaces in recently vacated apartments that suggested the way the space was laid out when it was occupied.  She has also photographed old wooden desktops from schools that bear the marks of generations of schoolchildren’s scribbles and doodles. 

Priming takes her interest in the traces left by people one step further. As curator Lauri Firstenberg commented in an interview with Raff in 2005, the artist seems to approach her subject sideways, through surrogates – places, objects, and traces, rather than the thing itself. In these images, she sidles into an exploration of memory  – her own memory of a place she imagined while engaged in a story, and perhaps viewers’ memories as well. But whether the viewer has read the books or not, these images are full of possibility and tension, percolating with narrative potential.