About the Photographer
American, b. 1949
John Divola began his career as an artist in the 1970s as conceptual art, earthworks, and performance were starting to dramatically change the relationship of art and photography. While many artists at the time were using the camera to document ephemeral or remotely located artworks, which were ideally experienced in person, Divola saw photography as the culminating site of his practice. Photographing his own painted interventions in real world environments, such as deserted houses, Divola explores the photograph's functions as a document and as an aesthetic end in its own right, creating images that equivocally merge these positions.
In 1977 Divola discovered an abandoned house on the beach, and he returned to it repeatedly over a number of months to make color photographs of its interior. His engagement with the place, which he tracks over time in the resulting Zuma Series, was simultaneously passive and active. On one level, Divola captured the ongoing deterioration of the building, which was open to anyone who happened to pass by, and in many respects his pictures resemble forensic photographs of a crime scene, complete with broken windows and fire damage. But Divola also made changes to the space himself, using lustrous spray paint to add improvised marks to the walls and ceilings of the house. His actions echo the practice of vandalism and seem "at home" in the derelict space, but these alien patterns and patches of color heighten the visual impact of the photograph and undermine the impression that the images are neutral documents.
Made with the intention of being captured in an image, Divola's painted marks become a way to sound out photography's inherent mixture of artifice and truth. Photographs are provisional records of the world before the camera, but they are also fictional constructions, shaped by the photographer's choices. Divola accentuates this dynamic further by using the camera to visually compress the distance between the interior of the house and the ocean outside, which is framed in the windows. Without a clear sense of depth, the beautiful seascape is flattened out and constrained, as if the windows were pictures hanging on the wall in the midst of the wreckage.
Divola competed a BA at California State University, Northridge in 1997, and an MA and an MFA at UCLA in 1973 and 1974, respectively. Since 1975 he has taught at numerous institutions including California Institute of the Arts (1978-1988) and, since 1988, the University of California, Riverside.