On Adam de Neige
Adam de Neige sets up extremely satisfying vertical arrangements of small objects: bottles, pins, feathers, pills. His photographs of these arrangements record a brief, sometimes precarious, configuration of ordinary things, like when you try and balance marker pens end-on-end in an idle moment. Yet the objects used don’t smack of a dreary divorce case or sluggish train ride. Familiar yet disparate, the components of each work dare you to tease logic from their placement in the image. Colour, initially, is the thing. So, in this one (‘003’: the titles aren’t much help), all the objects – a plastic lighter, a couple of plastic-topped pins (the kinds that look like miniature barbells, that leave a dent in your fingertips), and a squat, circular plastic stand (part of a pen lid?) – are different shades of greenish, undersea blue. Pronged into the top of the lighter is a metal screw (the blue-collar cousin of the plastic pins), which sends up a little leaf of part-blue flame.
Collectively, the arrangement of things has an architectural verticality, like a model of a mooted tower in Dubai. It’s a format, and a resonance, that de Neige carries through across a range of images. But the choice of objects – especially that screw, jimmying the ignition down – suggests the detritus of the hobbyist scientist, knocking together trouser presses out of pipe cleaners and empty shampoo bottles in his garden shed. Something else is happening too: the apparent uprightness of the objects is actually a sort of visual trick. The lighter seems to sit on the pins, but it’s the angle of the image that makes it seem that way. So the photograph corrects the arrangement. Like circus animals, things perform for the pleasure of the viewer, with the photograph acting as the ringmaster’s whip.
What about colour? In ‘G’, every object is green: pill bottles sit on top of a matchbox, flanked by a lime-green lighter and a parabola of green crystals. A sweet, wrapped in yellow-green cellophane, forms the apex, like a statue on a column in an old European city. The common colour nodded to in the title opens out to reveal the infinite diversity of, say, green, as opposed to the narrowness of the name. It’s a hoary old theme – let’s not say semiotics, I’ve just had lunch – but in de Neige’s hands it becomes an opportunity to explore the inexhaustible beauty of the man-made. Sometimes it takes a photographer to point out the obvious: that visual and formal beauty isn’t confined to the conventional fine arts, it’s there in every designed object we touch and use every day – lighters, water bottles, pill bottles, pins.
De Neige’s photographs perform the pre-linguistic action of comparison: this is like this, that is like that. That might explain the childlike joy in small things, seen in an intensely focused way, that gives his work its compelling charm. Yet they carry meaning beyond a surface whimsy, alluding to human preservation (warmth, hydration, sustenance, preservation) and becoming, casually, disarmingly, totems of modern existence, just like that.
Images courtesy Adam de Neige