8 - 30.10.1999

Lowdensbor, AL 1996 © Dan Biferie


Dan Biferie's digital photographic visions

Our exhibition is centered around the artist's latest works, but it actually shows what Dan Biferie has been doing since the beginning of his career. Among selected works from the 70s, featuring the little known, provincial America, presented observantly and from a critical distance, there are his latest works, created by means of modern digital technology and marking an interesting switch from a noble documentary to artistic creation. What Dan's latest pictures show is easy to identify. Although they are mainly photographs which have been manipulated, tampered with and digitally transformed, they remain legible as far as the objects and the places they come from are concerned. They could not have been taken anywhere else but in the United States. This is America, even though it is different from the country we have come to know watching the pictures of our global, cosmopolitan pop-culture. One could even say that those pictures are extremely American - due to their contents and relations with the local photographic tradition, the great tradition of American photography, that is to say, started by such people as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lang and Russell Lee. Thus Biferie's art is marked by high photographic culture, too, which is typical for American culture and photography in general. Moreover, his works are immaculately perfect. They possess all the features mentioned above, and still more.

Three Crosses, PA © Dan Biferie

Tiverton, OH 2 © Dan Biferie

Most characteristic in his works is the far-reaching reduction of certain elements or motifs of the picture - trees, bushes, grass, a cornfield, water, a meadow, and wooden buildings among them. Black-and-white or sepia-coloured pictures by Biferie - even those digitally transformed - are simple because of the noble simplicity of the objects, images or words which reach the essence of things without unnecessary ornamentation. Those simple things in the photographs, those elements of nature and culture are connected by something more than just the fact that they have been taken by the same author, that they are similar in the form of the photographed objects or that they are alike in the form of their representation, which is to say the angle of their frames, their composition and the play of lights. It is most striking that they are so forcefully present, that they exist in those pictures so intensely that one can almost feel them. Here we encounter the problem of time, deeply and inseparably connected with photographic imagery. The intense existence of what we see points to universal time, not to the time belonging to any concrete "hic et nunc". The existence, the submergence in time of places and things, of nature and culture, seems to be in Dan's pictures their reason of being, "raison d'etre" - to exist and survive, to take part in an undisturbed continuation. There is nothing in this of nostalgic sentimentality, resulting from the desire to stop time or retain the image of places that pass away and which are changed by time as well as man. They show that the connection of nature and culture lies deeper than on the level of simple co-existence of buildings and landscapes or buildings set next to landscapes. One ought to add here that most of these buildings are old churches, usually wooden, scattered all over provincial America. They are far diiferent from the typical phenomena of American culture presented by mass media. The existence of those buildings, their rooting in certain time and tradition is to be seen both in Biferie's early works, created by means of traditional photographic techniques, and in the works which have been transformed by computer means. Dan manipulates fragments of photographs in a subtle and discrete way. He sometimes transforms fragments of a negative or a print, or puts together an image from half-images so discretely and perfectly that his manipulations become nearly invisible. Digital instruments, however, allowed the author to liberate those photographs from their transitory temporariness, their conretness "hic et nunc" much more effectively than the usual, "analogue" working method. We should stress that - paradoxically - the images transformed digitally have not been deprived of their authenticity or any documentary links between images and their objects, if we agree that a document is something that confirms the existence of something factual.

Cedar Rock, GA, 1995 © Dan Biferie

Pine Swamp, NC 2, 1999 © Dan Biferie

That is because the use of digital instruments freed the Author from certain limitations of traditional, analogue photography, any intrusion into which causes to a smaller or larger degree the feeling of falseness. Discovering traces of manipulation in an "analogue" photograph we feel it to be an attack on a document and we feel that it is false - even if the Author's intention was not to falsify but estheticize. But it is different in the case of Dan Biferie's photos transformed digitally in his unique way. He does not falsify anything and he is not going to cheat his viewers. His digital operations are often noticeable at a glance. And his intention is not a documentary, but a created picture of something he spotted, beautiful in itself, but at the same time something that is meaningful for him from the point of view of its selected motifs. And it is their more than an obvious meaning that is the problem which interests Biferie most. The existence so moving in his works is not to be found in some "abstract" natural and cultural surroundings. The material culture of the buildings mingles with the spiritual culture of those who had once built them as well as those who have since then made use of their specific functions of temples. Those old, modest buildings are surprisingly respected and cared for in America, which one would have thought more sensitive to modernity and the rush towards novelty. These churches become one of the valuable elements forming cultural and national identity independently of people's beliefs and worldviews. This respect for tradition, typical of most Americans, perhaps because American history is not very long, may be felt most clearly in provincial parts of the U. S., where the pictures have been taken. Dan's art is also filled with respect towards photography and reality - it gives the image of reality something that existed in reality. It has never been directed against photography, reality or its image. His artistic operations are very conscious, both in terms of means and final results, and they broaden the sphere of creation of photograph-based images. Usually the esthetic use of digital techniques in transforming photographic images takes place for different reasons. Digital technology is often used "against" photography and its limitations, moving far beyond the essence of a photographic image (that is, its physical and ontological links with the object) in the direction of forms of creation associated more with a painter or draftsman than a photographer - or it is used "against" reality which for various reasons does not fulfill the expectations or demands of artists. Similar operations which estheticize the image of reality appeared in the history of photography before. The most clear example may be pictorialism with its arsenal of specific, anti-photographic techniques used to emulate works of fine arts. Modern computer techniques, which may create images of non-existent objects and situations, enable any stylization of an original, analogue photograph. The effects of such operations frequently lead to a specific neopictorialism in which tedious, manual pictorial techniques have been replaced by computer techniques that allow us to perform equally deep image manipulations. But Dan's works are decidedly antipictorial. They are based on fundamental qualities of photographic pictures scanned from a negative or a print. These qualities, like focus, perspective, the play of lights and shadows and the "mechanical" means of representation, additionally strengthen the role of computer techniques which serve the photograph in a specific way. Other operations which change the contents of the pictures recorded on a negative do not "destruct" reality - they are not directed against it although they manipulate its image. Those pictures are composed of fragments of faithfully rendered images of things which really existed in front of the camera in some concrete "hic et nunc". In this respect they are documentary, but they still remain ideal pictures. What they show could really look as in Biferie's pictures... if the buildings were built in a slightly different fashion and if the trees, meadows and fields slightly changed their position. His pictures are a projection of an ideal. In his art Biferie attempts to go beyond sensory impressions and to convey his own personal feeling. Like a painter or a poet, free in the choice of their imagery, Biferie wants to show his own vision, his own internal image of things and his own feelings, without giving up the realism of certain elements of representation or a certain minimum of their documentary character. New images, created partly with the help of a computer, are to tell us about certain places and experiences in such a way as to make the object of experience legible, render something that lies beyond a simple sensory perception and which becomes precisely an experience, emotion or an expression of cultural relations. Pure photography employed in a traditional way has always resisted this type of contents because of its documentary relations with objects. The transgression of this resistance may be based on the intensification of a photographic vision by formal, strictly photographic means (like focus, frame composition, take and the use of value blotches) or, like in pictorialism, on manipulation of the qualities of the picture, its elements and contents.

DeLand, FL, 1996 1996 © Dan Biferie

Geneva, FL, 1999 © Dan Biferie

In Dan Biferie's case digital instruments serve to broaden creation and to present what he would like to express using a photographic image with all its advantages but without its limitations. This strengthens his artistic autonomy in opposition to the mechanical and documentary essence of the photographic medium, although the images created in this way retain all legible and unquestionable photographic values. It also fulfils the need of probably every photographer and every artist, the need to create one's own images and visions stimulated by emotions, feeling and imagination, visions reaching beyond an every-day contact with reality. Setting in this exhibition Biferie's older works next to his latest not only shows us the way the Author has come, but also something more general, namely another possible approach to photography in the age of digital images. And as far as photography is concerned this approach is rarely taken by contemporary artists using digital instruments, although these artists seem seduced by the seemingly unlimited possibilities of manipulation in creating phantasmagoric virtual images. A great value of Dan Biferie's works - not counting their artistic value and great plastic beauty - is also their "didactic" aspect in question, proving that a photographer may use the computer in his own way without simultaneously betraying photography.

September 1999, Lech Lechowicz
translated by Maciej ¦wierkocki


Pixie, 1998 © Dan Biferie

Robby with Caterpilla, 1998 © Dan Biferie

Kathy, 1999 © Dan Biferie


Dan Biferie - CV.


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Copyright ©1999 Dan Biferie, Lech Lechowicz, Galeria FF £DK