The images in Shawn’s Heavens series are monumental cloudscapes that seem very “real.” Each appears to present a view of the sky taken from a single point in space at a single moment in time. In other words, they seem to be performing the traditional function of photography—representing/re-presenting objects as they appear in the world. In fact, however, Shawn’s cloudscapes are painstakingly manufactured and constructed. Every one is composed of anywhere between ten to over a hundred different images that he montaged, blended, and brushed to create a single, unified image. Rather than capturing unique moments in time, the resulting works combine multiple moments into realistic skies that never existed, filled with clouds from different times and perhaps different places.
Where works in the Heavens series look “true to life” but are actually carefully crafted fabrications, the A Ply series presents unmanipulated images of ordinary objects that appear abstract and painterly. These are photographs of toilet paper. But Shawn makes them into something else entirely. Plucking the familiar tissues from their original context, he uses them to create peaceful images of rich texture, mysterious planes, and cool color. And although they are “straight” photographs, they can easily be mistaken for graphite or gunpowder drawings. Banal, everyday objects associated with filth become sublime. Reality is changed.
In the Earth series, reality is created as if from whole cloth. Like images in the Heavens series, these works look like traditional, naturalistic landscape photographs. Conveyance, for example, is an icy Arctic panorama. Or so it appears—this frozen terrain does not actually exist in the “real” world, other than by print. It is a fictional, photographic reality. For the works in this series, Shawn creates three-dimensional tableaus by arranging plants and minerals into theatrical set pieces. He photographs these displays and then creates composite images by merging other images into the photographs and digitally painting them with surreal colors, contrasting tones, and simulated textures. In the finished images, elements of the natural world exist somewhere between fantasy and actuality. The familiar and unfamiliar are joined to create dream worlds made real and credible by photography.
As Shawn explains, “realities are constructs of our minds.” By making viewers question the truth and reality of his works, he invites them to question their own fragile realities.