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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rob Van Petten - Master Of The Near Future

Hyperreality meets science-fantasy in Rob Van Petten’s striking imagery

rob van petten New York-based photographer Rob Van Petten’s latest project Near Future is an homage to all things scientific, science fiction (think Star Trek meets Wonder Woman) and atomic-age retro. In these hyper-real, heavily Photoshopped worlds, women of the near future display great strength, confidence and a restrained sense of sexuality. Van Petten is one of the few photographers working today who can tap a deep creative well in order to make his visual ideas concrete. His work displays a mastering of the technology, as well as a highly disciplined sense of control.

The look and feel of Near Future is drawn from Van Petten’s childhood, which was heavily grounded in science. “The derivation of this style is that I’m very scientific and grew up that way,” he says. “I like physics. I’m fascinated by molecular models. I’m crazy about the formula E=mc2. I love to think about the orbits of particles, force fields and that sense of the third dimension. All of these themes and ideas permeate my thinking and are made manifest in my images.”

Van Petten discusses his scientific entry into photography by explaining that he played with chemistry sets throughout his childhood: “When I was 12, I borrowed my dad’s Nikon and never returned it. Quite suddenly the darkroom evolved from the chemistry lab. Where I used to study and practice chemistry, I now had an enlarger, which gave birth to my darkroom photography habits. Long before any digital tools were available, I was up to my elbows in chemicals, literally.”

The most important element of his pictures—the women themselves—understand and appreciate his choreography. Says Van Petten, “We shoot a lot and I’m looking for those images that have strong emotional valences.” [In case you’ve forgotten your high-school chemistry, valences are a measure of the number of chemical bonds formed by the atoms of a given element.]

However, in spite of all of the technical tricks and references to and applications of technology, emotional truth lies at the very core of Van Petten’s work. “It’s the most important part of the whole creative process for me,” he says. “Do I strike an emotional chord [a valence]? That’s the principal reason for this entire exercise.”


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