Gary Emrich: All Consumed
It was a pleasure to meet Gary Emich at the Month of Photography Denver portfolio reviews. His compelling prints of landscapes as seen through water bottle labels were at once humorous and thought provoking. His work makes us see things anew, with a perspective of cynicism and curiosity. “I have chosen to…invert the value of the things consumers buy by preserving and elevating the disposable and ubiquitous packaging and plastics to make trash an object of desire and beauty.” Today we feature two of Gary’s projects that speak to water bottle landscapes, All Consumed and Firewater Suite.
Gary Emrich is a Colorado-based media artist/photographer with a 30 year exhibition record. His work resides in numerous private and public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Denver Art Museum, the State of Colorado, and the University of Colorado Art Museum. As a fourth generation Coloradan, much of his art work addresses issues revolving around living in the West including water as a commodity and the heroic perception of the West. His work is media-based and combines artist generated and appropriated imagery; investigating how people create personal memories and collective histories from the countless objects and impressions they accumulate on a daily basis and why humans endow certain objects, events, and images with special meaning by preserving them.
Gary received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BA degree in Political Science from the University of Colorado.
He had his tenth exhibition at the Denver Art Museum in the summer of 2018 when work from his project “All Consumed” was exhibited in the group show “New Territory: Landscape Photography Today”
All Consumed is a series of landscape photographs fabricated with advertising imagery of lush greenery, blue skies and snow-capped mountains from the plastic wrappers on multipacks of bottled water. Addressing how the bottled water industry uses marketing tools to drive Americans to consume 50 billion bottles of water a year at 1000 times the cost of tap water, this project combines a marketing image of nature’s purity with plastic waste products to call out the hypocrisy of consumer culture. This bottled water culture is not unique to America however. These landscape photographs are made from packaging from European, Asian and Middle Eastern water companies as well and addresses the impact of branding by the bottled water industry on consumers as we move toward the inevitability of water as a commodity worldwide.
To make these ideas real, I layer a hard, transparent plastic “blister pack” with water bottle packaging on a light table, fill the plastic depressions with bottled water and photograph the composition with a view camera. I have chosen to combine two of the first things we throw away, inverting the value of the things consumers buy by preserving and elevating the disposable and ubiquitous packaging and plastics to make trash an object of desire and beauty.
Water as a commodity has been a subject in my art practice for over twenty years. Living in the high desert of the American West, my perspective on the value of water is shaped by watching water rights bought and sold and knowing that the geography of Colorado dictates that all the water eventually leaves and none flows back into the state suggesting that when the history of the West is written, it will be written in water.
The “Firewater Suite” challenges mythic notions of the West. In the project, I acquired vintage liquor decanters of Western American icons and combined them with backgrounds appropriated from contemporary water bottle labels. With titles such as “Sheriff with Ice Mountain Spring,” these visual clichés suggest an idealized depiction of the historic West; where branding and selling of bottled water in this century carries on the laughable stereotypes of whiskey decanters in the last.
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