20 December 2019
20 December 2019 - Written by Laurence Cornet
Garrett Grove's series Errors of Possession offers an ambiguous look into the American West and the ways in which agriculture, industry, and humans' pursuit of the American dream have altered the country.
A field marked with burned circles evocative of a spaceship’s imprint, a hat flying above the tree line, a tired landscape except from a mystical light. West Coast photographer Garrett Grove’s images are imbued with mystery. In the book he recently released - Errors of Possession - uncanny landscapes at the beginning set the ambiguity. The first one could well be of Mars, another one a diorama. “I shot this project in 2016 around the presidential election. It was a time that felt pretty surreal in the United States, with fake news and the way events were covered. Everything is getting very confused at this point in the world and I think I just couldn't escape that when I was taking the photographs”, Grove says.
Flirting with fiction, he offers with this work his own interpretation of the American West. “I wanted to embody the myth a little bit, to make it my own, and to make it kind of fantastical because the idea of the American West is so blown out of proportion”, he explains. Excessiveness is a recurring pattern in Grove’s photographs – in one image, a man is rolling on a mountain of potatoes, while another one stands in front of a pile of wood five times his height - our consumption portrayed as ridiculously out of scale. “A lot of the themes in this book have to do with industry and the pace of modern life versus the pace of the natural world. And I feel like nature can't really keep up”, he comments.
Rather than harsh commentary, his work navigates humour and poetry. “It comes from me not knowing how photography helps the bigger situation nor knowing if I have the authority to say what’s wrong. I’m saying, ‘I’m in this mess with you’, I don't know what the solution is”, Grove adds. Thus, he creates contrasting photographs that abound with layers and metaphors, “with beauty and tragedy”, he says. In a picture, a group of people is gathered in an open field in what looks like an anachronistic ritual. No artefact impinges the harmony of the landscape. “I just loved seeing a group of people meeting outside under beautiful clouds. Yet, the irony of the picture is that they are standing in a field of monoculture, a man-made landscape that is very bad for the soil and for nature.” In another one, a bunch of salmon swimming upstream to lay their eggs appear at first gaze like an army of flying objects, leaving a troubling impression.
As if to offer an escape, Grove adds a few landscapes that seem to be leading to another world – a black pound in the middle of the field evoking a portal, the entrance of a cave, and even marks from outer space. We don’t know where they lead, but they suggest an alternative.
Garrett Grove is an American photographer based in Washington State. His photographs, set in the documentary realm, have been exhibited and published nationally and internationally and Errors of Possession is his first monograph.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb.
This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.