Critics’ Picks

Ryan Thayer, Timemachine 2008, 2010, photogram, 8 x 10”. From the series “Timemachines,” 2010–11.

Ryan Thayer, Timemachine 2008, 2010, photogram, 8 x 10”. From the series “Timemachines,” 2010–11.

San Francisco

Ryan Thayer

NOMA Gallery
80 Maiden Lane 3rd Floor
April 23–June 12, 2011

The glow of our cell phones and laptops attracts us like moths to a flame––or, in cable TV vampire parlance, we are glamoured by their engineered luminosity. There’s something of that almost supernatural power depicted in Ryan Thayer’s monochromatic photograms of sundry personal electronic devices, objects that emit light but are also capable of making photographs themselves. These items are sleek and of the moment, but technological upgrades will soon render them antiquated. The cameraless impressions that Thayer sears into sheets of lightsensitive paper, however, are fixed, pointing to a complex range of cultural implications and current states of photographic practice, which currently favor handcrafted analog modes.

These singular photograms resemble X-rays, a forensic attempt to see inside internal cavities; here the images represent a search for the vast memories, or perhaps the soul, of these mundane but exceedingly powerful products. The depicted moments happened just once, on a single device, but record a state enacted by countless individuals and their machines, millions of times a day. A fair number of Thayer’s subjects are signature Apple products; the app icons and logos, the swirl of the factory-installed screen savers, are branded into our brains much the same way that their afterimage is captured in these pictures. Thayer has titled the series “Timemachines,” 2010–11, alluding to the immediate historicizing effect of picture taking. In some ways, his images serve to preserve something current, and the constant promise of the future; yet we all know that these objects are facing imminent obsolescence, as few of us hold on to last year’s model once this year’s arrives.