The works presented in Parallax are from Susan Dobson’s Focus Finder and Viewfinder series, a collective body of work that at its surface feels alluring and contemplative, but which is underpinned by evidence of a constructed framework that is controlling our experience of the images. Although the exact locations of the photographs are ambiguous, each scene is familiar, evoking memories of ruminative moments by a water’s edge, as we are captivated by the beauty, or soothed by the rhythmic waves. The allure of the image however becomes interrupted by the appearance of smudges, scratches, and markings of various historical and contemporary viewfinder devices that divert our focus away from the receding horizon line and undermine our meditative repose. When we become aware that we are looking through someone else’s vantage point, suspicion, unease, and an uncomfortable sense of voyeurism begin to surface.
For the Viewfinder series, Dobson took pictures of the Great Lakes using a vintage large format camera, and superimposed scans of various ground glasses from the 1850s to 1980s overtop. In Focus Finder, her approach shifts to contemporary image-making technology by using a digital camera to capture locations around Lake Huron with the viewfinders of a variety of lens-based devices including cameras, drones, camcorders, surveillance equipment, and identification software. In layering these past and present devices with familiar subjects, Dobson creates a competing narrative of perspectives that seemingly exist in and out time while conjuring contemporary concerns of technological surveillance and control. As the artist writes, “[The photographs] aim to operate not just as transcription, but also as metaphor and poetry, framed within the anxiety of the present moment.”
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