More than a little of the considerable appeal emanating from Erin O’Keefe’s photographs lies in the difficulty we encounter deciphering them. With these works—razor-sharp depictions of abstract, brushily painted, sculptural tableaux, for the most part—not only does one struggle to identify the medium, but the compositions traffic in shadowy illusion and spatial ambiguity, making it hard at times to know exactly what is being portrayed.
As is the case with most abstract photography, be it historical or contemporary, these works place willful obfuscation in dynamic tension with objective disclosure. Once identified as photographs (and despite our diminished faith in representational veracity in an era of pervasive digital image editing), O’Keefe’s works draw the viewer into a conscious examination of components as an instinctual effort to wrest meaning and purpose from equivocal information. It is this sense of quandary, in combination with the artist’s mastery of technical and formal principles—her ability to extract such a remarkable concinnity from the collapse of painterly, sculptural, and photographic effects—that makes these works so exceptional.
The camera enables me to find these moments that actually don’t exist in the real world—you could never see it that way with your eyes. That an image has a kind of autonomy from its subject and from its condition of making.