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by Jody Zellen

“Pink Hallway 3,” cibachrome
mounted to plexiglass, 60 x 48”,
edition of 5 (2 artist proofs), 2000.

"Flooded Hallway from Right,"
cibachrome mounted to
plexiglas, 48 x 60", edition of
5 (2 artist proofs), 1998-99.
(Grant Selwyn Fine Art, Beverly Hills) Since the mid 1970's James Casebere has been making photographs of table-top constructions of the built environment. The subject of these images ranges from suburban interiors to institutional structures. Each image is a photograph of a model of a building that has been stripped of its color and details to evoke a sense of emotional place rather than the physicality of a place’s forms.

Casebere is interested in the point at which photography, architecture and sculpture intersect. He was one of the first "post modern" artists to become known for creating images for the camera, a methodology currently being explored by photographers like Gregory Crewdson and Thomas Demand. Unlike Crewdson, who constructs elaborate sets using numerous actors, or Demand, who simulates interior spaces out of colored cardboard and paper, Casebere is interested in the memories and feelings evoked by the architectural spaces he represents. Carefully constructing table-top models using plaster, styrofoam and cardboard, Casebere maximizes the dramatic effects of the lighting before making his monochromatic photographic image (He has also created room-sized installations of his models--these become places to be experienced rather than photographed). The resulting works are both surreal and remarkably realistic.

In his early works, Casebere used crudely cut and assembled pieces of cardboard to create interior domestic spaces where ordinary objects ended up in absurd situations. For example in Fork in the Refrigerator [1975], a gigantic fork penetrates a cardboard refrigerator in this depiction of a kitchen scene. Similarly in Fan as a Eudemonist: Relaxing After an Exhausting Day at the Beach [1975], a household fan has been personified and domesticated. According to Casebere Bacillus Pestis [1976], a photograph in which rubber mice escape from a wall mounted TV set, was drawn from childhood memories.

Throughout the 1970's Casebere's works looked at interiors and domestic spaces. In the 1980's he began to create images of public spaces like courtrooms and libraries as well as suburban streets and homes. In these pieces he wanted to "transform the mundane, familiar, domestic nature of contemporary life. . .in order to find the extraordinary in the everyday." By eliminating the details, Casebere asks viewers to rely on their memory, or memories supplied by popular culture, to fill in the gaps and to create a context in which to view and under stand his images. In addition to asking viewers to look within themselves, Casebere also relies on properties specific to photography. Each model is constructed to be seen through the lens of a camera, and takes advantage of photography's ability to flatten space and capture lighting effects invisible to the eye.

The resulting photographs are beautiful. They have a ghost-like quality to them. The images are usually lit to evoke a nighttime scene, emphasizing the drama of the moment. Devoid of people and color, the photographs are about the drama of the spaces and what they may represent. A number of Casebere's photographs from the mid 1990's invite viewers to imagine prison-like spaces modeled after actual prisons. These works express the solitude and loneliness of vast empty spaces while simultaneously referencing specific locations like Sing Sing or the Prison at Cherry Hill.

Why prisons? The subject evokes the idea of social control while the images make reference to Foucault's writings about the panopticon. Who is being watched? Is there an all-seeing eye in these images? Casebere is interested in the relationship of institutions to our lives and explores this theme in his images of prisons, storefronts, and other public spaces.

"Toppled Desks", cibachrome
mounted on aluminum, 30 x 24",
edition of 5, 1998.

"Four Flooded Arches from Left (V)", cibachrome faceand back
mounted to plexiglas, 60 x 48",
edition of 5 (2 artist proofs), 1999.

Prisons are one type of institutional architecture, and prep schools are another. In his latest series of photographs Casebere has constructed models of Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In these works depicting dramatically lit hallways, Casebere has included subtle color like the pink of the walls, and the blue glow of the long hallway. This represents a departure from his previous work. In Pink Hallway 3 one is drawn into the receding space of the academic corridor. One can imagine students rushing through the archways on their way to class. Yet in Casebere's images the hallway appears flooded. There is no sign of struggle, rather the illusion of water on the floor creates a beautiful play of light and shadow. Long empty hallways are never inviting, but Casebere's depiction's of institutional spaces are meant to evoke memories and to entice wonder. They do not present conclusions, only possibilities.