Justin Coombes’ art evokes the strange, shifting relationships that connect a person’s environment with their personal and historical memories. He primarily uses photography, but also text, video and performance. After early training in painting, the artist combined slide-projection with long exposures to create haunting, ethereal works: ‘straight’ photographs that played on the uncertainty of the spectator’s vision in the digital age. Simultaneously, they recalled the ‘slowness’ of photography in its 19th-century origins, and the attempts of its early pioneers to transpose the pictorial conventions of history painting and theatre design into this brave, seemingly transparent and artless new medium.
More recent work is equally as densely layered, but the projections are now replaced by a greater emphasis on text and mise-en-scène. ‘Hokkaido Postcard’, a book and exhibition, places a series of photographs the artist composed in Japan with narratives he later improvised in response to them. Word speaks to image and vice versa: the work insistently, subtly and poetically questions our relationship to photography, memory, verbal description and the physical world.