Growing up in the early 1970’s, Seattle-based photographer Bill Finger and his family would routinely gather around the television to obsessively watch the Apollo space launches. Even into into his early adulthood, he recalls being particularly moved by an NPR segment about sending a manned mission to Mars. This initially inspired Ground Control, a series about a fictitious character who tried, in vain to go to space; and more recently emerged in Voyager, circular photographs of immaculately produced dioramas that explore the complicated boundaries between fact and fiction, and self exploration.
Voyager is based on the aimless drifting and isolation often associated with outer space, but avoids the common visuals one might expect. While a few literal space references and images of probes provide an initial context, it’s not wrought with stark black passages, infinite voids, or zero-gravity teardrops falling from Sandra Bullock’s face. Instead, Finger's existential weightlessness more often finds itself in subtler imagery including uncanny landscapes, lonely houses, and seascapes, often shot as triptychs with varying lighting conditions. Each image is produced from elaborately fabricated sets built in Finger’s studio, often not much larger than a tabletop.
Finger builds entire sets to accommodate the vantage point of his lens. “I often will set up my camera first,” he says, “This way I can take into account the lens perspective while having an economy of what I am building. There is no reason for me to make the entire world when I only see a small portion of it.” It also allows him to build spatial relationships to scale, creating a heightened sense of depth and perspective. As the sets themselves exist purely to be photographed, once complete, Finger destroys them to make room for the next picture. It’s no surprise that his previous life was in the film industry, having worked for years as an assistant cameraman, where this process was routine. “There really is something wonderful about something that is constructed only to be photographed,” says Finger, “the passage of time reduced down to representation.”
Voyager employs a circular format for a few reasons. On some level, they mimic the round shape of the space probe, or perhaps referencing a portal by which one might view the world. But it’s also tied to a desire to move away from a tendency among many photographers over the past twenty years to make ostentatiously large prints, in exchange for a greater sense of intimacy with his work. Finger was particularly inspired by Japanese photographer Masao Yamamoto whose 2006 exhibition at Eastman house moved him to embrace a smaller, more personal experience with the photographic print. “I truly miss the object-ness of the photograph,” he says, “it is the experience where you hold the photograph in your hands and encounter it on a one-on-one level.”
While there is a certain amount of nostalgia to these images – both in Finger’s embrace of the small print, and his childhood attachment to space travel, he sees each image as referencing an ambiguous, open ended flow of time. “I didn't want to anchor it to one specific time period. I see it as having three threads that interweave the series while the voyager itself is serve a punctuation that reflects and separates them.”
Bill Finger is a Seattle based artist whose work combines sculpture and photography.
Bill has exhibited his photographs in both the US and Canada. His work is included in
the permanent collections of the George Eastman Museum of Photography and the
Santa Barbara Museum of Art. He holds a MFA in Photography from the Rochester
Institute of Technology.