Roe Ethridge’s work has consistently challenged and radically transformed the relationship between fine art and commercial photography. Exploiting the instant-capture nature and ubiquity of photography, Ethridge’s compelling body of work layers images from commercial photoshoots and luxury advertising with scenes from everyday life to reflect on American culture at large. Ethridge’s imagery ranges from portraits of friends or models; to still lifes of ashtrays, Thanksgiving dinners, and rotting fruits; to idyllic landscapes. Both staged and spontaneous, Ethridge’s visuals can be simultaneously uncanny and banal, comedic and unnerving, new and nostalgic. “It’s a thing where one image could slide from one context to another,” he says. “If [a photograph] didn’t have a caption, if it wasn’t historically contained, it could do multiple things.”
Ethridge’s work connects to American landscape traditions yet proposes new themes and documentary forms. This early work, Cliff in Montauk, features the ocean seen from an overlook and veiled in a delicate purple hue. It belongs to a series of photographs taken by the artist for his book Roe Ethridge: Rockaway, NY (2007), featuring landscapes from around the world—Mumbai, St Barts, Cornwall, Atlanta, New Mexico, Los Angeles, Florida, Montauk, and the Rockaway peninsula of the book’s title—that stress the universality of landscape. Captured through varied pictorial modes and perspectives, the images in the book—coastal views, shop interiors, suburban settings, a snow-covered boardwalk, and a quiet street in the late summer—seem to blend into one another. “The idea is not to render a perfect illustration of a coastal-themed photo project,” says the artist, “but something more like a fugue form with multiple voices that pull the threads through this coastal thematic.” The concept of the “fugue”—a contrapuntal compositional musical technique, or a condition of amnesia or disoriented travel—has often been referenced by Ethridge and cited in relation to his practice. Rather resembling scattered recollections than following linear logic, this fugue strategy searches for and achieves unity and harmony through synesthetic perception or feeling.
Roe Ethridge (b. 1969, Miami) received a BFA in photography from the Atlanta College of Art (1995). His work has been shown extensively at international museums and exhibitions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2016); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2015); Lyon Biennial (2015); Museum Leuven, Belgium (2012); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010); and the Whitney Biennial (2008). Ethridge’s work is held in the collections of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Tate Modern, London. He lives and works in New York.