BY DIANE BUSH
For twenty years, I have made a career out of commenting on American culture through observation of television content. The multimedia body of work that has emerged, 500 Channels, can best be defined as cultural or political satire. The name refers to the fact that just 20 years ago, the idea that we might one day have more than 500 television channels was nothing more than a dream.
My technique is simple, and involves no digital alteration. I shoot with a macro lens held at an angle, close to the TV screen, using the widest aperture for a shallow depth of field and maximum distortion, and keeping the shutter speed at a fifteenth of a second to avoid scan lines. The faces in the photographs—mostly those of news reporters, TV anchors and their guests—appear distorted. Only a small area of the screen appears in sharp focus; the rest of the image drifts into soft focus.
Various projects have emerged from my experimentation with this technique, including ones on both the Gulf War (Suppose they Gave a War and Nobody had Cable?), and the Iraq War (Warheads). In Warheads, I chose to re-use many of the images I had created for the Gulf War series that attacked the subject of media censorship. But increased violence from local car, roadside, and suicide bombings has added a different dimension to the Iraq War. Wanting to create new images, and being an avid recycler, I decided I needed to somehow distress my existing prints. My first attempt was with razor blades; I tried to score the surface of the prints and peel back layers, to expose the white underneath. Another involved painting on top of the prints, which I knew other photographers had successfully done.
Ultimately, I remembered how much I loved using bleach on my black and white work. Throwing bleach on the photographs, I discovered, revealed emulsion layers of red, orange, yellow, and white—appropriately, the colors of heat and fire—and gave the illusion of a violent explosion.
Through experimentation, I determined that it was necessary to wash off the bleach before seeing the results; if it remained on the print for an extended length of time, only white would appear. I also found that using the bleach on dark areas revealed the best colors. The surface of the print became dull where the bleach hit, but also gave it a sort of etched look that I liked. Second attempts usually destroyed the spontaneous look of the first throw. What surprised me the most was how perfectly flat the paper air-dried, whether mounted or not.
The finished images are mounted on unframed board and arranged on the walls, clustered tightly together in groups. The effect is meant to mimic a bank of TV monitors, similar to a TV network control room.
The “warheads” that report on the war do so, for the most part, from the safety of their TV studios. These images show the white media elite, politicians and others, being exposed to an imagined physical overlay of fire and mayhem. My hope is that seeing these images will shock people, even slightly, and remind them of the security blanket we are wrapped in here, thousands of miles from the battlefield. Maybe it will also remind us of the death toll still being tallied.
Diane Bush has her MFA from SUNY Buffalo. She has been working as a photographer for nearly forty years, and her work has been exhibited and published both nationally and internationally. Her newest book, Warheads, was published in 2006. Bush and her husband, the artist Steve Baskin, have been collaborating on various art projects for over 20 years. Their most recent exhibit, “Permission to Speak Freely,” was on display from August 3-30 at the Contemporary Arts Collective in Las Vegas. She can be reached at email@example.com, and found online at dianebush.net.