Could fixing clouds, pollinating a barren earth, making wind and patching up the sky ever be turned into almost humorous subjects? In “The Architect’s Brother,” a series of 42 photographic images by Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, we follow a determined and optimistic Everyman who does just that.
Indeed we find that the more you look at these pictures, the more details you see.
The ParkeHarrisons are a husband-and-wife team whose photographic work, “The Architect’s Brother” is concerned with the state and possible fate of the Earth. The exhibition has travelled from 2002 to 2007 through the United States, Canada and Germany and is probably the artists’ most publicized work.
According to its official description, ParkeHarrison “conjures a destiny in which humankind’s overuse of the land has led to a spent and abandoned environment, inhabited by one indefatigable spirit (portrayed by ParkeHarrison).”
Robert ParkeHarrison explained the motivation for his choice of motive in an Art News interview in March 2001: “I love to try to capture that quality of the Earth looking like the world’s just started or been destroyed and is starting all over again – that feeling of being way back in the past or way ahead in the future.”
In the age of Photoshop, where imperfections are quickly smoothed out, the ParkeHarrisons draw on flaws to make their images special. They use the forgotten art of photogravures, photographs made from paper negatives, which each take five weeks to compose.
The ParkeHarrisons build props and the backgrounds from objects they find and then set the stage with Robert ParkeHarrison as the protagonist. Several images are taken and their negatives collaged and printed. Finally, they are painted and coated with wax to achieve the sepia-tint and shine.
“Garden of Selves”
Robert ParkeHarrison portrays an ill-fitted yet optimistic anti-hero who reminds one of his influences, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci and George Orwell. It is as if the original architect (God? A mad scientist?) has left the world to work on the next project, leaving the architect’s less gifted yet creative and optimistic younger brother to patch up the remains of project number one.
“Da Vinci’s Wings”
Rather than documenting environmental consequences through photographic documentation, the ParkeHarrisons use their training in fine arts to show a world that can seem gloomy or spirited, depending on the viewer’s interpretation.