Garry Winogrand once said, “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed..."
In this same sense, artist Jahi Sabater’s studio practice explores this tension between the hypothetical, the viewer, and the objects in the photograph. To question the liminal, in-between space and discover what there is to discover. Sabater is a student of the history of photography, the human condition, and the evolution of the image through channels like surrealism, sculpture and theatrical processes. Sabater’s creative process can be viewed as a gateway to the unknown. There is a divide between the viewer, the structure of the lines and shapes, the fundamental components of the photograph. These unfamiliar elements pique an interest, “for me personally, I've always been attracted to images I can’t immediately understand. Images that I need to take time to process. Those images can run a wide gamut. I guess unfamiliar is the best word to describe it,” explains Sabater.
Sabater considers working with the model in the studio a collaborative step by inviting them to bring in materials that have meaning to them or asking them to meditate on a particular song prior to the studio session. From making a pinhole camera with a brown paper bag to asking models to listen to certain music passages on repeat. These forms of ritual add another level to the unfamiliar in the image, to the viewer and the photographer and are important elements of the story of the image. This collaboration also becomes somewhat of a theatrical process during the photo shoot. “I consider the relationship to be a collaborative one… I'll ask them to bring clothing and additional materials that will help with the photos. During the shoot, I'll sometimes play a song or two on repeat. I'm honestly not sure what this does, but my hope is that we'll have a shared headspace. I usually incorporate music titles in the titling of my pieces and will play the same or similar songs while making edits in post-production. During the beginning of shoots, I'll direct the model to do some simple movements. When I see a particular pose I'm interested in, I tell them to stop, take a photo, then reposition them or the objects to refine the pose. As the shoots continue, the models will often give suggestions and input on their poses. I'll listen and create what they are thinking. The back and forth is helpful for me,” Sabater shares.
Sabater’s most recent pictures are of subject’s veiled in material holding objects, which conceal identity and are not considered portraits. They are Madonna and childlike figures. “In this series, I've been looking at Victorian-era photos of women holding children while being covered in fabrics. Conversations I have with myself like Why am I drawn to these photos? Then it's additional conversations with myself about the images and the materials in my studio space. Seeing what materials connect. What makes sense for creating the photographs,” Sabater says.
“I've always enjoyed the imagery of TV interviews where the subject/interviewee's face is concealed. whether by lighting or pixelated blur, their identity is protected but something else happens. That emptiness becomes part of the subject. I've developed this weird mind-state where I make this really concerted effort to hide my subject's identity. Like as if I'm trying to protect them from someone. The viewer, I guess? I guess this comes from those TV interviews I've watched. I've used this strategy several times in my work, so with the hidden mothers, the shrouds create her presence, but identity is her invisibility. I'm still trying to figure it out this connection between the shroud, and this mother-child/subject-object relationship. I just find similarities between them and my process, and it's been exciting to visually understand it,” Sabater continues.
Sabater has been working in black and white for the past three years, he considers the color black a transitional tool for the figure and sculpture to merge. This lack of color adds to the mystery and attracts the eye to the abstract or empty shapes and forms in a more complex way because the viewer is not distracted by an emotional response to color. This emptiness creates an abstract form. Further current work by Sabater are remakes of glitches and experiments with superimposing abstract forms on different material backgrounds. Macroscopic blurred crystals become biomorphic imagery superimposed on backgrounds. These digital collages become sediments of otherworldly documentation.
Jahi Sabater is a Fellowship MFA graduate of the Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts program, and the BFA program at Parsons, New School of Design.
A Bronx native, he now works in Brooklyn New York making his studio-based photographic works.
- Laura Horne, New York, NY January 2019