“Permanently set, the
butterfly pinned, reminds me
of my freedom.”
Jeff LeFever’s Instant Icons reveal a rich conceptual depth below their simple construct. Spending time with them can be quite rewarding when we look past their surface.
The art series was born from such questions as; does revisiting a static image [a photograph, for example] keep us from being present with that someone or someplace pictured? Does it stunt or limit our memory for being anchored to the captured image? Do images become placeholders that provide us with a sentimental joy or sorrow but not necessarily a continued engagement with the living? Do we do this with God?
Images from churches printed on instant analog film resemble the Polaroids of old: Mary with the infant Christ, the crucifixion, Christ triumphant— one’s first thought is Orthodox icons. When we look into these images with thoughtfulness, they open up to us, like flowers to the sun, revealing their intimacy and beautiful complexity. Some find them exquisite as religious icons for prayer.
The instant analog film gives the photographs a sense of personal proximity. They recall when on-the-spot photo making first appeared and was made culturally popular with the Polaroid SX-70 Land cameras. The iconic instant film border from the SX-70 print is a recognizable symbol for making “instant memories,” an association to the Polaroid instant film picture long before the digital age. The Polaroid instant picture’s promise was more than instant photography; it epitomized making and sharing personal memories with friends and family, drawing us closer to one another, making tangible our most cherished moments forever. The Instant Icons leverage this with a nod to both the contemporary Western Church, the secular me-lebrity lifestyle that blurs reality with narrative, virtual with the real, and documenting one’s life in snapshot memories. It teases out a discerning question between what is real and what is fabricated simulacrum.
The two fundamental pictorial elements of the Instant Icons, of something religious (absolute and permanent in truth, sincerely formal in commitment) joined with something as casual and carefree as an instant photo snapshot, do not necessarily belong together and should create cognitive dissonance. But, in our mass social media culture fully immersed in self-documentation, making and sharing personal moments and memories, broadcasting our lives — there is no cognitive dissonance. This art series traverses the ground between memory and relationship. It connects religious encounter and social behavior, presence, and intention.
LeFever intentionally uses expired film as a physical attribute of the instant prints, accentuating what he calls “a sense of human frailty.” LeFever points out that the photos are metaphorically “imperfect vessels bearing divine image,” teasing further musing. His Instant Icon books give further clues to the layering of this artwork. The Books can be found at Blurb.com.
See some of the printed Instant Icons in the Online Exhibition tab.