Ceaphas Stubbs’s large-format photographs navigate the innate tension between desire and pain, and unpacks the phenomenology of loss by giving visual language to the persistent tingling, itching, burning, and aching that accompany want. Stubbs scavenges materials, which often hold traces of intimacy yet embody only a fraction of a greater whole —colorful, patterned swatches that belong to a larger garment; scenes clipped from photographs rooted in someone else’s memories; and limbs dismembered from sex acts depicted in pornographic magazines. These materials are then refigured, suspended, anchored, or overlaid into parallel universes using string and wire affixed to a wooden armature. In a final gesture, Stubbs places this armature against a vibrant and textural backdrop, and photographs the tableau to generate a single image, where only shadows remain as remnants of his trace, and the multi-step process. His creative process is an experiment in itself, a performance that tests the understood limits of photography, perception, and patience, marrying analog and digital processes to produce imagery that is simultaneously nostalgic and afro-futuristic.
These flat yet loaded prints toy with viewers’ perception and orientation by eroding the distinction between background and foreground, gravity and anti-gravity. The longer one spends falling head over heels into these works, the initial pleasure in looking is followed by crisis of vision: determining the scale of the sculptures and the depth of the picture plane is a difficult task. This ambiguity is drawn out in the titles of works, with their repeated use of ellipsis, pointing to the state of uncertainty and the temporality of anticipation. When in love or loss, the field of vision and feeling narrows dramatically. Stubbs’s objective is to create images that pulsate with the claustrophobic affect of desire and puts the viewer in the position of the lover, always waiting, ever uncertain, obsessively analyzing the beloved’s words and gestures.