Artist Steven Cline is a lawyer? “I only practised law for a couple of years before deciding it wasn’t for me,” he says, laughing. “After I quit I started to investigate other options and got interested in writing and photography.”
His new show, Lessons in Love, consists of six large-scale photos accompanied by an audio recording on an MP3 player giving a background story to the image. “Most of my pieces start as a short story,” Cline says. “Combining them with a photograph is a way of enhancing the content, or in some cases giving a different take on what’s happening in the image.”
Each photo/story centres on a character coming to an understanding about love or relationships. “All of the characters need to learn something that will either help them move forward in their current relationship or on to the next one,” he says. “I’m fascinated by how we can rationally know the right way to proceed in a relationship, but when emotion is factored in we often make the wrong decision.”
The characters in the images reflect a diverse collection of experiences. “Purging” features a thirty-something man holding a framed photograph that is not visible to the viewer; the audio recording tells the story of a failed relationship without ever revealing the gender of the person with whom he was involved. In “Baby Lips” a teenaged boy stares at an infant in a car seat; the accompanying audio recounts the end of his relationship with the mother of his child and his decision to give up the baby for adoption.
Though each of the photos is designed to look like a casually taken snapshot they are all carefully staged and composed. “I use friends to portray the characters in the images and they are directed what to do,” he says. “In that sense the images are obviously artificial though the aim is to have them look as realistic as possible.”
Cline blows the photographs up to a large size (most are about 36 inches by 48 inches) to accentuate the grainy quality. “The idea is to have the images look relatively raw,” Cline says. “People used to take all kinds of photos of their friends and families, put them in albums, and then occasionally look at them. I wanted to replicate that experience in a way, as if these are photos of people that the viewer actually knows.”
Though there is something intensely personal about each of the six pieces, Cline stresses that the works are not autobiographical. In particular his piece “Reunion” (pictured), about a gay couple who are seeing each other again for the first time after the end of their failed long-distance relationship, feels like it was extracted from personal experience.
“Any artist who says their own experience doesn’t affect their work is lying,” Cline says. “The stories are works of fiction but there are elements of me in all of them in some way.
“One thing I can say for sure is that I’m not an expert in love.”