Victor Sloan: Photographic Prints

Text from Critics Choice

Victor Sloan: Photographic Prints

Selecting anything, including an exhibition, is autobiographical. It is often easy to hide that basic element under the objectivity of a large-scale survey. However, being asked to choose the work of a single artist removes that cover.

Although Victor Sloan was one of several artists in different media whose visual qualities and perceptions are comparable and have been exhibited here, it is his work which set off a particularly strong series of conscious and subconscious references.

Confronting the quirky subjectiveness of making choices about visual arts involves what influences a selection, at least to oneself. Otherwise the result becomes mindless. In Sloan’s case there were several causes. One was watching how his work came to grips with moving from painting to photography over the past 8 years and how his photography has developed in its own creative and technical terms, ceasing to imitate painting.

There is a the continuous tension of a risky balance between the readable figurative shapes of photography and the freely-drawn, non-figurative marks which he runs across negatives or prints by scratching them or painting on chemicals. These marks place the identifiable shapes within the boundaries of a pictorial universe, nor those of the everyday life from which they come.

The shapes still retain their references to life outside the art image to the past and present conditions and mythology of Orangeism viewed through Sloan’s recording of and relationship to it. He uses a single negative for the basis for each picture, and takes his own photographs. A camera can only record the light effects in front of it, not those of somewhere else. Sloan uses images taken from where he was brought up and now lives, which happens to be Northern Ireland. His work filters all the cultural loadings of his background and present attitudes, a process of which he is thoroughly aware.

By setting these images in the context of non-figurative marks, Sloan controls them by making them also into marks and so defusing their story-telling elements in the process, he develops a discussion about photography as a visual arts medium, and about what can happen in it. Controlled chance and the conscious use of what would usually be seen as accidental damage to a print, are generally avoided in a medium obsessed with technical perfectionism and concise control. Sloan deliberately incorporates the former.

These marks are equally important at another level. They allow Sloan to emphasis the personal emotion outside logic, which is necessary to change an illustration into a creative image. This is particularly vital in a medium like photography, which views technique as an end in itself and not as a vehicle for self-expression. Victor Sloan pointed out that “for me” the marks are therapeutic, It’s like breaking glass. I really get satisfaction and enjoyment from them.” Without them his work would be no more than just another exercise in Northern Irish socio-political illustration. Instead, he creates powerfully creative visual images which respect but control their sources. That combination is a rare one, in any medium.

Sean McCrum