James Casebere, ’78
“Constructed photography” is the art-critic term for what James Casebere does. Less formal terms might invoke “mystery” or “dream settings” or “uncanny perspectives.” But however you react to his moody, thought-inducing photos, their power is undeniable.
Casebere goes small for big impact. He creates tabletop environments, like elaborate dioramas, and then lights them to produce large photographs, interior landscapes of places that maybe, might, or should exist. At first, early in his career, these model rooms were obviously artificial and occasionally included a real-world object, such as a fork, invading the space. More recently, the rooms are astoundingly accurate, with precise physical and historical details.
His subject isn’t really the rooms or spaces themselves, but what they might evoke in viewers. He’s created ambiguous, anonymous hallways, but also specifically historic locations: rooms from Andalusian Spain, or Berlin’s Reichstag Building, or Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. A particular project on the Atlantic slave trade included settings from West Africa, Southern plantations, and the West Indies. More recently, he’s “gone outside” by constructing small suburban-development landscapes on rolling hills.
Casebere’s ability to mine consistently surprising meaning out of a singular technique has won him regular attention and honors. His works are in the largest major American museum collections, and he’s both a Guggenheim Fellow and a multiple recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Foundation for the Arts.