Rafael Soldi Casts Off Art School Lessons In His Series “Life Stand Still Here”
April 6, 2018
“Veer,” a version of a work Soldi made in art school but had no place for. Once he opened himself up to new ways of working, the piece found its place in his new series.
”You Are Already My Memory.” Interested in the changes to his psyche after a traumatic experience, Soldi took an abstract approach to exploring human nature.
In his body of work, “Life Stand Still Here,” which is showing this spring at ClampArt in New York City, photographer Rafael Soldi uses abstraction and metaphor to explore the “space within us that defines the core of our psyche.” Though the work is linked to experiences from Soldi’s life—childhood memories, recurring dreams, relationships—he references those indirectly, questioning how what happens to us shifts our understanding of the world.
“Many people accept the idea that each of us has a certain resolute innerness—a core of selfhood that we can’t share with others because it is so private, internalized and visceral,” Soldi writes in a statement. By making work about his experience, he hopes to create connections with his viewers around “our shared psychic struggles.”
Included in the series are what he calls “black images,” which are rendered in varying tones of black, creating a subtle separation between the depicted object, figure or landscape and its black background. They’re visible only on close inspection. “All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters” is a pair of seascapes; the left image shows a subtle, fading light reflecting on the rippling water, while the right image shows the sea as it might look to someone straining their eyes to see on a moonless night. “Veer” is a diptych of portraits of a bare-chested young man in profile, who appears to be lost in thought. That work is actually several years old, an outlier Soldi made in art school that wasn’t part of any project. At the time, he wasn’t sure why he’d made it, he tells PDN, but it sat on his hard drive and he’d look at it periodically. As he began exploring new ways of working, the image resurfaced and found its place in his new series.
Soldi’s process for making “Life Stand Still Here” was a departure from the linear, “project-based” training he received in art school. His previous body of work, “Sentiment,” told the story of losing his first love in a particularly painful way: The man he had been with for four years left abruptly one night and Soldi never saw him or heard from him again. As he thought more about that experience, he realized he wasn’t interested in telling the story of the breakup, he was interested in how he’d changed, and he set out to make images about those changes. “I think this is true of trauma: When people [close to you] die or you go through losses or traumatic experiences, they unlock these very dark corners of your psyche, not darkness that is perverse, but darkness that is unknown,” he explains. “It makes you wonder, ‘What else is in there?’”
When he embarked on his new series, he was attempting to represent the abstract concept of inner-selfhood, and didn’t have a clear narrative or process in mind. “I decided to give into the abstractness of it before thinking of a strategy to get from A to B. It was terrifying for someone who has always worked in a linear way to just make work and see where it goes,” he says. “But there was urgency, and then the work connected itself.”
Another work in the series, “And All of the Sudden You Were Gone,” is comprised of ten panels that begin with a muted white light on black—imagine a single round light seen through dense fog—which then fades completely by the fifth panel, then reemerges as a dark “light” on white background over the next five panels. Soldi says the work represents “how our actions and energy interact with the unknown,” the concept that other people catch the energy we put out into the world and it comes back to us in some form. He had wanted to make a piece about that idea for years, “but I thought it had to be a single, figurative picture.” Then he observed “a lot of [photographers] giving themselves permission to make work that was not straight photography—photography getting more sculptural, and malleable.” Multi-panel works by Sophie Calle and Hank Willis Thomas were particular touchstones. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to make that work,” Soldi says. “I didn’t know it was even an option for me.”
Soldi says he’s happy to tell the personal stories behind the images to viewers if they ask, because he’s learned that “the more specific something is, the more universal it becomes—people connect to personal stories.” But he’s “more interested in how the work stands as a whole, and the meditation it can provoke in the viewer. I don’t need people to know my story, I’m just curious to understand human nature and try to leave enough space for others to access their own experiences through my work.”