Sam Rupsa lets the ordinary be ordinary, and there’s something so strange about it. In all of Rupsa’s photographs, there shines anticlimax, redundancy, thwarted fantasy, mock sublime, and desaturated nostalgia.
From southern California and currently based in Denver, CO, Rupsa’s mixture of tropical nights, suburban ennui, and western gothic seems eclectic, but his wry, sardonic style ties together this range of subject.
His photography focuses on a problem of access, from recovering the past or attaining dreams. His striking sense of irony puts us in positions where we reflect on our experience of gazing.
For instance, the carousel shot above foregrounds a fence, keeping the viewer at a distance. Instead of a photograph ‘about’ a carousel, we have a photograph about watching a carousel and how nostalgic longing for childhood is staged by the inability to access the past.
The confrontation with cages, barred or walled thresholds that put us on the outside of an expected experience and point toward the limitations of experience, reappears through Rupsa’s photography.
Turning attention to away from direct access to the subject (here, the moon) to the obstruction between us and the moon accentuates the the impossibility of longing. The moon says to us that what we want is tantalizingly just out of reach.
Rupsa plays with the viewers’ expectations. Foregrounding insuperable boundaries and untraversable lengths sets up the stage for sublime beauty, grandeur of awe and terror. Distance accentuates the beauty of that which is unattainable. But Rupsa’s irony seems to mock these expectations, and even the photographer’s founding principle according to Susan Sontag: “What moves people to take photographs is finding something beautiful.” Rupsa’s photography presents us with beauty, yes, but in ways that involve reflection on impossibility. That impossibility throws skepticism on the ideal of beauty in photography.
In what would make for majestic, snowy mountains, the fence, the power lines, and the post sticking out in the foreground directs our attention away from wondrous nature, toward ordinary, man made constructions: property, electric lines.
The artificiality that permeates Rupsa’s photography comes from playing with sublime conventions, mocking them, inverting them to an anticlimactic tire stations in the suburban night. The brightness clashing with darkness, the symmetry battling the rounded, encompassing void, Rupsa presents the tire station as a beacon of light immersed in totalizing darkness, an epiphany or a waystation for wanderers lost in the night. But the stark realism and angular slant of the building facade lack the romantic curvature that immerse viewers in hidden, uncanny realizations or experiences.
This break in the fence, a gap in the flow of disconnection that separates one solitude from another, seems to welcome the viewer into a magical secret. The other-wordly twilight and the light hitting and vanishing on the boughs rewards our attention to detail by welcoming us into its fantastical night. But the yellow powerline slicing the gateway undermines that release. If we enter this alternative space, we are not leaving behind the world we left.
This Pacific red aura starts to build an epic ambiance until it’s disrupted by an air conditioning unit. Centered in the frame, the AC unit speaks to the comforting regulation of life within the domicile. Stacking the unit on top of roses by collapsing the depth of field, Rupsa wants us to conflate plant and machinery. Judging by the lush rose bush, life within must be peachy. The palms peeking over the roof ironically remind us of status and comfort. Our position in the backyard, fixated on that apparatus of comfort, puts us on the outside doubly, critically.
Motivating his irony is a quizzical attitude toward suburban achievement.
Backyards, inversions and reductions of ‘normal’ life show us the macabre side of American life. This Western gothic strips the home of its cultivated pretension and returns us to a stark frontier of bare life and death.
Fallen trees in the expanse exemplifies Rupsa’s anti-aesthetic — against the escapism of photography that beautifies and glorifies the Beautiful and the Ordinary.
Rupsa reveals the backsides of our suppositions. Our craving for the extraordinary in the ordinary falls on anticlimax, drains clogged with debris, time and time again.
To see more of the artist’s work, follow him on Instagram here.