ORIGINALLY HAILING FROM Sydney, Australia, photographer George Byrne traveled extensively before finally settling in Los Angeles. The city became both his home and his subject (to the point of near-exclusivity, with rare exceptions made for Miami), and over the past decade he has developed a distinctive style and method, in which he digitally edits, alters, and blends photos into seamless, uncanny portmanteaus. The end result is a dreamlike series of bright, colorful locales that do not quite exist in the real world, appearing temporarily abandoned or forgotten, equal parts idyllic and abject.
Yellow Door, 2021. All images © George Byrne / Hatje Cantz Publishers, used with permission.
In the excellent introductory essay, Ian Volner locates Byrne’s stylistic roots among 20th-century artists who defined the modern American West, including David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns, and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. Regarding his subject matter, Volner sees in the empty sidewalks and driveways, closed doors, frame-spanning walls, and other dead spaces an encapsulation of what the critic Rem Koolhaas calls “Junkspace”: “…what remains after modernization has run its course or, more precisely, what coagulates while modernization is in progress, its fallout…” The disconnect between the photos’ bright colors and ubiquitous blue skies on one hand, and the aggressively unromantic subject matter on the other, gives them an air of the whimsically absurd. Taken as a whole, the collection often surpasses absurdity to become vaguely unsettling, with shades of David Lynch, who for decades has plumbed the depths beneath the sun-baked surface of Los Angeles.
Monolith Palm Springs, 2021
Byrne’s uncanny edited structures, always viewed from the outside, suggest an implied darkness beyond their walls and doors. In the remarkable Monolith Palm Springs, 2021 (above), the darkness makes a rare emergence: a monochrome black wall blocks the view of the mountains beyond, a positive-as-negative space that calls attention to the artifice involved in the process, and suggests the “natural” background as a foregrounded, mural-like wall. Many of the images have a similar interplay between foreground and background, with modular blocks of wall giving way to claustrophobic corners of sky, where strange, alien-like palm trees loom unsettlingly in the distance.
Hollywood Toyota, 2017
It’s tempting to see something not just uniquely American, but uniquely Southern Californian, in Byrne’s images. Touchstones in the art world include Wayne Thiebaud’s landscape paintings (foremost in their vivid pastel palette, but also in their stark, intentional geometries and forced perspectives) and the vanishing-point severity of the aforementioned Ed Ruscha’s Standard Station series. And as with Thiebaud and Ruscha, the dominance of car-based infrastructures is a constant presence in Byrne’s work – even if cars themselves rarely appear in the photos. The code of the automobile – colored curbs, painted barriers and lines of parking lots, massive left-turn arrows covering whole lanes – are often the only form of “language” in otherwise wordless images.
Bus Depot, 2021
White Palm, 2015
Lap Swimmer, 2021
Ultimately, the building-centered photos that make up the core of Post Truth could be seen as a form of classical portrait, with subjects meticulously posed and portrayed in idealized form, surrounded by items that symbolize their station and standing. And ultimately, as with portraiture, lingering traces of artifice are forgiven if they serve to elevate the subject in the eyes of the viewer.
Hatje Cantz Publishers
Hardcover / 144 pages / € 54