The Optical Illusions that Might Lurk Around any Corner

Have you ever had that eerie feeling that a space just doesn’t feel right? Perhaps a doorway that looks like it leads nowhere, or something you see out of the corner of your eye that seems to play tricks on you. New York-based photographer Austin Irving’s latest series NOT AN EXIT celebrates these intransigent urban spaces that we unwittingly encounter every day, revealing their subtle magic.

“I found the first image of my NOT AN EXIT series by accident in a hotel in Souest, Netherlands in 2007,” Austin tells us. “I was on location for a commercial assignment and late at night after a long day of shooting bridal gowns, I discovered that from this one exact spot, the hotel hallway looked strangely and uncomfortably impassable.”

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“Luckily, I was travelling with my 4×5 camera and I was able to capture this bizarre optical illusion on film. Since then, I have walked through countless hallways and doorways and I’ve found only a select few locations that, when viewed from one exact angle, illicit that same visceral reaction.”

We got Austin to open up about the latest series, and her previous work.

The Plus: How would you describe your work?
Austin Irving:
My goal is to create images that have emotional and visual stamina. We live in a world where images are metabolized so quickly that I find myself wanting hit the pause button. I enjoy the process of taking my time, working slowly with a large format camera. All of my work is made on 4×5 colour negative and transparency and exhibited as large-scale photographic prints.

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TP: Your works are so varied, yet they all seem to play on our idea of human habitat. Is that a recurring theme for you?
Yes, our idea of human habitat is a definitely a recurring theme throughout my work. I am interested in locations that were built for function and how, because of their utility and banality, these spaces are often overlooked. This reoccurring theme of the idea of human habitat is a large part of one of my other photographic studies entitled SHOW CAVES.

The objective of SHOW CAVES is to highlight the tension that exists between the staggering natural beauty of caves and the renovations people make in order to transform these spaces into spectacular tourist attractions. These caverns have been curated to cater to both the physical needs of sightseers as well as to our collective expectation of the fantasy of a cave.

My photographs explore one of the paradoxes of urbanity; are these additions acts of vandalism disrupting a delicate eco-system for the sake of commercial profit? Or do these human interventions draw attention to the preservation of caves and make hard-to-access natural wonders readily available for appreciation?

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TP: How did you find the spaces to photograph for NOT AN EXIT?
Sometimes I wonder if these spaces find me! Even though working with large format is largely a premeditated practice, there is also an element of chance when making an image for my NOT AN EXIT series. Sometimes I get lucky and am in the right place at the right time. But there have been a handful of locations that I’ve wanted to shoot, but had to come back weeks, months, sometimes even years later with my camera.

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TP: Do you have a favourite space/piece in the series? One that spoke to you in particular?
Yes, my favourite piece in this series is an image I made in Singapore in 2009 entitled Red Hill Train Station. It very much embodies the thesis of NOT AN EXIT in that is an everyday location made for humans to routinely pass through and yet, this one specific angle in which a surreal optical illusion occurs, could go totally unnoticed.

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TP: Any future projects coming up you’d like to tell us about?
I’m working on a new series entitled TIME OUT, which is a study of anthropocentrism and its effect on plant life in metropolitan environments. The tension of this work lies in the cross-section between flora and urban planning, specifically how plant life is both celebrated and distorted for our needs as city dwellers while simultaneously exhibiting resiliency to imposed conformity.
Is the integration of plant life into our urbanized environments a demonstration of our assertive anthropocentric tendencies? Or is the fact that the flora can survive despite our attempts to control a testament to the resiliency of nature?

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