“The photographic method is like observation because you’re taking notes, forming hypothesis, bring samples back to the lab, you’re processing them and then you’re drawing conclusions and sharing what you find with people and essentially that’s one of the best parts.”
How did a zebra find itself on a splintered asphalt highway in the Mojave? It turns out it didn’t escape from the local zoo, and it wasn’t coaxed to the desert for the photograph. While it seems a natural habitat for the alluring creature, albeit surreal as it is feeding from dry asphalt, the zebra was a composite taken by Spencer Lowell while visiting the zoo and later inserted into the composition. Photographing animals in their decrepit cages, Lowell says he felt as though he was freeing the animals by compositing them in environs beyond the perimeters of the zoo. The photograph demonstrates a wonderful trompe l’oeil effect and speaks to Lowell’s technical ability to seamlessly pair reality with imagination.
A native of Southern California, the saturated color stories of sunshine drenched days, turquoise oceans and infinite cloudless skies are etched into Lowell’s aesthetic. A landmark part of the collective experience of living in California is the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier as it is seen from several vantage points including the street and the coastline. Lowell’s handling of the Ferris wheel points to his desire to mystify that which is known. Photographed from a distance as if it were a relic of his childhood, the camera is luring it back into focus, the Ferris wheel appears as a bifurcated metal object engulfed in sky, containing brightly colored seats tilting in the wind, containing the outlines of human forms.
Similarly his aerial photographs of soccer players in MacArthur Park marks the photographer’s desire to convey a large amount of information within the limitations of the frame. Lowell has found the best way to accomplish this is to photograph the city from a helicopter. Looking down on the city from such great heights without traffic and obstruction allows Lowell to detach himself from subject’s miles below. The results are photographs that slowly reveal themselves upon closer inspection.
“People say that my colors look like Southern California and it’s not intentional,” Lowell explains. “But through reflecting on my own interests and my own tastes and regurgitating that into my work and reflecting more in this cyclical process, what has resulted is a color palette that is reminiscent of my upbringing in a city where things are bright and happy. I feel bright and happy a lot, even though I don’t know how to wear my heart on my sleeve, so maybe that’s one way to display the way I actually feel.”
After working in a photo lab at the local mall when he was sixteen years old, Lowell realized his vocation as a photographer. Fascinated by science, much of his commercial portfolio includes portraits of scientists and details of the construction of the Mars Rover. Lowell’s artistic practice mirrors the scientific method. “The photographic method is like observation,” he explains, “because you’re taking notes, forming hypothesis, bring samples back to the lab, you’re processing them and then you’re drawing conclusions and sharing what you find with people and essentially that’s one of the best parts.” Always keeping one eye open to the urbanity around him, Lowell’s unflinching camera takes inventory of that which goes unnoticed and points out that beauty thrives when it’s least expected.
All images courtesy of the artist