In the universe of images, where much of what we see quickly appears and disappears, the similarity and multiplicity of photographs is crucially overlooked. Today’s encounter with the image depends not only upon the copy and transmission of packets of information, but involves, at the moment of its production, a quantity of similar images, produced and assembled out of sight. For popular digital processes such as high-dynamic range, 2-3 exposures are required; selective focus and photogrammetry require 5-10 images to be stacked and overlaid; for the no-longer-elusive decisive moment, caught by pre-capture or live functions, a reel of sequential exposures, usually 20 or more in length (which you probably didn’t realize you were producing) underwrites the tool to playback and select the perfect image of the event. Eager-to-please automation will also remove unwanted figures in the background: to do so, it will analyse details from the figure and their surroundings, and use ‘content-aware’ algorithms that use machine learning, requiring millions of photographs as input. 

Photography in these everyday examples aims towards the production of an artificially singular object. The photograph hides a recursive (repeating, but subtly shifting) event in a contingent process, pretending to give rise to the spectacular one-off. Such images are, I think we can wryly suggest, convenient fictions, fantasies produced by automated processes which conceal their operations, passively accepted because of the ease they promise and perfection that they simulate. They evidence subtle permutation, but also conventional outcome, technology concealing as it does a subtle nudge towards conformity. Changing the direction of travel becomes informative: a photography which begins with its specificity, and comes into contact with a plenitude of records, explorations and possible lines of flight, maps the possible. This artistic practice remains a photography of multiplicity, but generously so: from here, we can see how images inform, influence and propagate. Complex truths about how one image leads to and shapes another, and the delicate balancing of the productive and reproductive reveal how our universe of images is constructed. 

Benjamin Jones and Stephan Keppel explore the generative conditions of photography through attention to different components within the photographic universe. Linked by a shared vocabulary of hybridized abstraction, where representation is challenged or overturned, they connect also in their exploration of the ecology of images – the material, industrial, processual and contextual richness of photography as it operates through and around our encounters with the world. This requires observing not only what images show, or even how this showing takes place, but a presentation or reveal of the coming together of imagery, materials, and technologies, as they change in their interrelations. The agencies of the image and process dictate or shape choices made by the artist, and as each image or process acquires its own logics (especially significant now that we can recognise that images communicate to non-human actors too), it takes on a momentum or trajectory alongside its authoring. The consequence of such detailed, discursive ways of working is sudden visibility of an iterative multiplicity, where abstraction and representation, image and object, expansion and compression are consistently interlaced. Serial photographic practices, multiplicitous assemblages and arrays emerge from and describe something beyond the fixed image, opening out to past, present and future tenses. 

Benjamin Jones’ Glasshouse series presents us with panels of large-scale images in combinations of 4 and 6 to explore the simultaneity of proximity and depth, attention and agency: a dense mixture of plants initially appear to blend to form one space – the panels becoming one totality, though quickly the image ruptures and reveals, panel by panel, different focuses and perceptions of depth. Jones’ process is built around a prolonged and concentrated assembly, and this translates to an iterative vibration as we view the work’s totality. Our eyes hover between wanting to read each image as autonomous whilst sensing that they are continuous with those which are their neighbours. We see an image focus on the foreground whilst the background recedes into a blur at the same time as, in another panel, the foreground softens and a background becomes defined. In this shifting from the one to the many, optical ranges within the image are made visible, and the images’ sensitivities – layered distances, densities, grain and definitions become sensitizing surfaces. For each Node work, paper negatives are cut and formed by hand in the darkroom to become reflexive descriptions of how an image begins (representation emerging of course from the fog of abstraction, and not appearing whole, as technology might have us believe). Combining faint traces of representational space alongside diagrammatical markings of the work’s own making – lines but also puncturing marks of the paper negatives’ placement and masking – each print combines the multiple temporalities of pictorial and processual spaces, making tangible the layers of its formation. 

Stephan Keppel’s selection and multiplication of the details of images reveal each component – whether a recognisable whole or abstracted fragment – to be its own point of origin and departure. Details, textures and glyphs construct trajectories, entering into and occupying space, notably resisting the compression of photographic images, as well-behaved, flat, industrial surfaces (whose presence and matter is concealed often by dark storage for prints and the distant sites of server farms). Keppel’s works Copy Series: Hard Wrapped foreground the observation, selection, multiplication and transformations of the image as it recurs, presented in clusters or sequences of shifting panels. Editing and printing sees the image move through magnifications and extractions until new forms emerge and the contingency of one image upon the others almost snaps. At this stage, the image begins to act in space, the image-fragment developing architectural scale and a physical impact that is felt by the body as much as by the eye. As graphical markings at once descriptive of and within the world, they break the photograph’s dematerialised virtuality to become concrete, sensory and continuously in progress. 

With the abstraction and multiplicity of the image in the foreground, Jones and Keppel bring us closer to the materials, gestures, and lives of images. Against a slippery and rapid redundancy of the image, they propose a layering of sensitivities, traces, and accumulating marks which shed and accrue information in their contact with the world. Open not only to evidence or presentism (the here I am, right now), but to extended durations and an open-ended becoming, they begin to model the possibilities of what the image might be.


With thanks to Duncan WooldridgeBenjamin Jones and Stephan Keppel for this text, which accompanies Post No Bills, an exhibition by Benjamin Jones and Stephan Keppel (16 September – 23 October 2022) at The Koppel Project Hive, London. Benjamin Jones images: courtesy the artist and LOOM Gallery, Milan. Stephan Keppel images courtesy the artist.