New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 25 July 18 to 31, 2012

Made from Bees
Matthew Brandt
Don Burmeister
Stone Lagoon, CA 3 by Matthew Brandt. Source:
Matthew Brandt, "Stone Lagoon, CA 3" 2008

A strong component of our visual response to every photograph is its physical presence. Seeing an image on a computer screen, in a book, or as a print are all different visual experiences. Often the imagery of the photograph transcends the medium, but in some cases the medium is the clincher. These images exploit aspects of their physical form as their primary channel of expression. Another avenue of photographic expression is conceptual: when the idea of the image is as important as the visual experience.

Matthew Brandt’s New York debut, currently on view at Yossi Milo gallery, is a grand mash up of these last two modes of photography – an experiment in which the groundedness of a tactile, obsessive, materials-conscious craftsman meets the cerebral heights of the conceptualist. Oh, and content? – Meh.

The show has pictures from four conceptual series.

Concept One. Water and pictures of water. What would happen if you took a picture of a lake and then soaked that picture in a tray full of water taken from that very same lake? The short answer is that the layers of color in a C-print start to separate; some wash away and some lift off in sheets to fold into other parts of the print. It’s a bit like when you have a bad sunburn and you can carefully peel away layers of your skin. It’s vaguely pleasurable, it leaves interesting patterns of color behind, but do you really want to show the results off to your friends?

Concept Two. A picture made entirely of wood. Imagine going to George Bush State Park and taking pictures of leafless trees at midday. Now imagine collecting dead branches from all the trees and making paper from them, and then imagine burning more of the branches and collecting the carbon black from the smoke. Then imagine making silk screen images of the trees onto paper made from the trees with pigment made from the trees. Back down here on the streets of New York we can see the rather pedestrian results, bland trees poorly printed on rather rough paper. Brandt has dozens of them. Frankly, this reviewer was a little disappointed that the picture frames were not hand crafted from the branches and that the glass was not blown from sand found at the foot of each tree. Why approach a project like this in a half-assed way?

Concept Three. Pictures made from unexpected pigments. This was to this reviewer the most conceptual of the show’s four concepts. After carefully checking my notes I realized I didn’t even see these prints, which might have been made from dyes extracted from Fruit Loops and various pills. Maybe they were down the rather mysterious stairway by the gallerina desk? I can only imagine.

detail from Bees of Bees 1 by Matthew Brandt. Source:
Matthew Brandt, detail from “Bees of Bees 1" 2012

Concept Four. Pictures of bees made from bees. This is the most engaging of the images presented. Large prints, which from a distance seem to be a scattered field of bee shapes, turn out on closer inspection to be larger-than-life sized, three dimensional piles of insect body parts. The iridescent cuticles and enlarged pollen sacks gives each bee shape an eerie, ‘Can this be real?’ quality.

The prints were made by the gum-bichromate process, an old technique that depends on the ability of certain bichromate salts to harden gum-arabic in proportion to the amount of UV light that hits it. Usually pigments are added to the gum and the gum is spread over the underlying medium. A negative is then placed over the dried gum. After exposing this to the sun a print is made by washing away the less hardened areas. Apparently after finding a large number dead bees somewhere, Brandt collected them, photographed them, and then mixed their dried bodies with the gum—ergo pictures of bees made from bees! The overall pattern of the bee shapes in these prints is reminiscent of astronomical photographs of some of the less dramatic corners of the universe, while the close-up view is as down to earth as cleaning off one’s windshield after a long summer’s drive.

Brandt is a young photographer (MFA 2008) so there is the temptation to make generalizations about the fear of content pervasive among academically oriented photographers. There is also the peculiar quality, even in these process-heavy pictures, for the images to look better, electronically, on a computer screen, than as actual prints.

One must ask when looking at this convoluted sequence of events featuring exhaustingly labor intensive processes executed with anal compulsive obsessiveness: Why? Is there a hidden morality tale to be discovered? Or perhaps some environmental homily waiting in the wings for our edification?

Whatever the answer, just be careful if you ever meet Matthew Brandt and he asks to take a picture of you.

Matthew Brandt

Yossi Milo Gallery
245 Tenth Ave Ground Fl
Chelsea         Map

212 414 0370

Thursday, May 24 to
Friday, July 20, 2012
Hours: Tue-Sat, 10 to 6