About the Photographer

New Catalogue

Luke Batten, American, b. 1968 and Jonathan Sandler, American, b. 1965

In their diverse artistic practice, which is grounded in photography, the artist team New Catalogue explores the role fictional images play in our lives and dissects the ways in which cultural narratives are packaged visually. To this end, the collaborators frequently adopt the guise of a stock photography agency or a high-end graphic design firm. Anticipating the needs of potential clients — at least in theory — the artists create thematic sets of images with the crisp, direct style and simple descriptive captions of their commercial prototypes. These series portray variations of familiar archetypes, such as cheerleaders, free-wheeling teenagers, political leaders, or 1960s revolutionaries, with a reliable wit and an underlying note of irony.

In showcasing specific cultural signposts, New Catalogue's sets of photographs recall the work of conceptual artists like Hans-Peter Feldmann, who collects examples of pervasive tropes within visual culture. Nevertheless, the images New Catalogue create work against the notion that a reliable, approachable logic governs the proliferation of certain visual forms and ideas. In the end, the artists destabilize the predetermined visual world of the stock photography catalog by incorporating subject matter that is subtly jarring, or by merging disparate themes that send mixed messages. We find ourselves looking at images that are both familiar and strange. In this respect, New Catalogue extend the critique of representation that postmodernist photographers and appropriation artists began in the 1980s, taking it in new directions. New Catalogue describe their practice as delving into "postmodernity's visual psyche," and, like their antecedents, they underline how depictions of so-called reality are inherently artificial. At the same time, their work is more optimistically concerned with tracing the elusive currents of a complex visual economy, at least provisionally, in which different types of images are increasingly equal, intermingled, and readily put to use.

In the series A. Hitler and D. Eckart: Obersalzberg to Hoher Goll the artists dissonantly combine the formal language of the stock photography catalog with the traditions of landscape and documentary photography. These photographs, captured along the route of Adolf Hitler's favorite walk near his one-time retreat in the German Alps, are openly picturesque, but they discreetly draw attention to the problematic relationship between a landscape, its representation, and its largely invisible history. Notably, the photographs document not only the mountain setting but its reuse and reinvention: visible in many of the pictures is the construction site of a five-star hotel, being built merely 300 feet from Hitler's former home, which was razed in 1952. There are no evident signs of the dictator's presence in the photographs; the only hint the artists provide of this unsettling history is the series' utilitarian title. Meanwhile, the photographs depict idyllic settings or scenic overlooks well-suited for the cover of a glossy travel magazine, or for an advertising campaign. The purposeful composition of these faux-stock images affirms this end: each has a vertical orientation, optimized for the printed page, rather than the more expansive horizontal format typically used for landscape photographs.

Luke Batten and Jonathan Sadler received M.F.A. degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston, respectively.