What is Real by Nancy Zastudil

“… suddenly and almost spontaneously, they caught fire, they became obsessed, they became intensely focused and intensely alive.” – Lawrence Weschler, A Wanderer in the Perfect City: Selected Passion Pieces

David Brown’s photographic series  trying to find my way… presents vibrantly layered images inseparable from the act of reflecting – literally and figuratively. Utilizing the crisp reflective properties of transparent surfaces within his urban environment, Brown presents the complex process of visual observation and perception, and their effects on the human psyche.

The title implies an unmediated navigation and echoes the primarily urban characteristics of the dérive – or, drifting – with an awareness and observation of the psychogeographical effects.[1]  Brown represents this physical and psychological experience of traversing an urban terrain by capturing his city’s image in the reflective surfaces of the city herself.

Reflection and perception relate to the complex process of feeding information from the eye to the brain – an ongoing science. How do we use what we see, consciously and unconsciously?[2] Do we ever not use what we see?  How is this choice made?  Do we truly perceive all that we see?

Brown represents his interest in this science by depicting a labyrinth of visual information and diffusing perceptions between interior and exterior, near and far, object and image.  His photos support the claim, “Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive.”[3] For example, we see lampposts hoisting up buildings, air vents inhabiting the sky, walls blockading the streets, archways competing with ceilings, and trees breaking through doorways.  Brown also illustrates his personal navigation through the metropolis with looming architecture, consumer products and display, and modes of transportation. Additionally, the architectural elements of nearly empty public spaces and businesses highlight the tension between the fragile nature of reflective glass and the massive structures in which they are embedded.

The human figures in Brown’s photos embody a sense of loneliness and appear to “get lost” amidst a myriad of stimulating yet conflicting information, contradictory visual clues, and fragmented figure/ground composition.  He attempts to absorb every last bit of what he sees to explore answers to the question, “What is real?”


Nancy Zastudil
Independent Curator and Co-Founder of PLAND

[1] Ken Knabb, Situationist International Anthology(Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright. “Théorie de la dérive” was published in Internationale Situationniste #2 (Paris, December 1958).

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_cortex

[3] Knabb.