Matthew Brandt
Learning to Surf
Jan 27
Mar 9, 2024
Hong Kong

Transformed or distorted during the development process, Matthew Brandt’s images expand upon photography’s limits. His oeuvre of process-heavy works will be on view at Rossi & Rossi from 27 January through 9 March 2024 in Learning to Surf, the American artist’s first solo exhibition in Asia. The presentation also showcases a new series of prints on glass titled Swell (2023), substantiated after his September 2023 visit to Hong Kong.

Brandt (b. 1982) photographs subjects that exist through their materiality. For instance, in Lakes and Reservoirs (2011–13), the bodies of water he captured on camera were the same ones in which the resulting C-prints were bathed. The artist had no control over how the emulsion layers would react to the collected lake water, only how long the photographic papers were soaked. Hence, each unique result is erratic in its faithfulness to the original image. Even so, Brandt retains an element of field research in photography as he merges the subject into the developing process. His visits to lakes and reservoirs in the Western United States are accordingly bound together in both image and substance.

Landscapes, trees, forests and woods recur in Brandt’s photography. Nature faces degradation, just as images corrode in extreme saturation in Lakes and Reservoirs. With Silver (2019), the artist expands the network of the relationships in his photography by placing the viewer within the image. He mounts these gelatin silver prints of staggering forestscapes onto aluminium and treats them with a silver solution that creates a smooth, reflective layer akin to the surface of an antique mirror. Viewers thus find themselves part of the dialogue between image and object, as they see their own silhouette whilst viewing each work. Inspired by a personal moment of introspection in California’s Idyllwild Forest, the artist transfers this meditative state by making viewers and their surroundings the subjects of the work.

The artist’s experimental photographic process also prompts him to embed history via material. His series Uranium, produced between 2019 and 2021, incorporates the titular element as the crucial component of the development process. The images depict amorphous reefs in the central Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands, which faces the threat of submersion due to rising sea levels. The nation was impacted tremendously by nuclear tests that the United States conducted between 1946 and 1958. Brandt therefore uses uranium, commonly exploited for its unique radioactive properties, in this project as an attribute of the nation’s blight as well as its indigenous people.

By manipulating images of spaces that were lived in or communal, Brandt also documents human traces. To create Swell, the artist took photos of dilapidated ‘dead malls’ in Hong Kong, documenting their state of limbo due to low foot traffic. Bound in metal wire that references navigation stick charts, the images are heat-fused onto glass, which bloats in shapes sculpted by the wires during the process. Having spent portions of his childhood in Hong Kong in the 1980s, Brandt leverages these malls to signify a point in time for the shifting urban landscape and to evoke his experience of navigating the city by means of his memory.

Subject and material intertwine in Brandt’s practice, and his fixation on methods of developing and printing images equates his photography to the process of object-making. In this way, his subjects comprise both the pictorial element and the photographic process, clustering tactile layers of reality both seen and experienced.

Matthew Brandt
swell, cathay88 1
Photo fused glass, wire and collected sediment from Hong Kong
53.3 x 40.6 x 2.5 cm
Matthew Brandt
Lake Vyrnwy 35
C-print soaked in Lake Vyrnwy water
50.8 x 76.2 cm
Matthew Brandt
Silver on silver gelatin print (mounted on aluminum)
59.7 x 105.4
Matthew Brandt
Eagles 62B
Daguerreotypes made from American Silver Eagle coins and glass
25.4 x 20.3 x 2.5 cm
Matthew Brandt
Photo fused glass beads and metal
198.1 x 121.9 cm