At first, the visual creations of Sean Higgins may fool you. On second view, they entrance you. You go in wondering, for a few seconds there, Is what I’m looking at real or made up?
A few more ticks pass. Your eyes shift from one artwork back to the previous piece and on to the next. Maybe, you suspect, the questions you’ve been asking are not the relevant inquiries at all.
Los Angeles-based Sean Higgins seems to have taken all the vertiginous aspects out of the word surreal. The dream life, the rich inner existence of every waking human, the fantasy universes we all visit from moment to moment, the stone and gravity that reclaim us several times every day, Higgins’s visions suggest it is all one reality.
Our job here is to check it all out—to look into what’s real and what’s unreal, and how those two function as one and unify all the disparate worlds we all live in.
The Skeeve: How highly do you value a double take from people when they first see your work?
Sean Higgins: I think it is pretty important…I am always interesting in tricking the viewer a bit. I want to create believable images, but I want the viewer to sense that maybe something isn’t quite right, or isn’t quite possible. Subtlety is very important to me. I often get the question “where is this picture taken?” at my exhibitions, and it always makes me laugh.
The Skeeve: How do you manage to create visual ambiguity out of concrete images?
Sean Higgins: That’s the key to what I make really. It’s one of the things I’m most interested in. I want to present some kind of mystery in the work. I’m not sure I can explain exactly how it happens…just that it is what I search for in the process. I think part of the visual ambiguity in the work comes from the removal of the subject from the original photo, along with removing the photo from its original context and rebuilding it. It is important for me to obscure the real subject.
The Skeeve: What are the three main places you’ve lived and why did you move?
Sean Higgins: Grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Left to go to college.
Did my MFA in Philadelphia. Left for the West Coast.
Currently in L.A. Seems like home; been here for 15 years and probably will stay a good while longer.
The Skeeve: Why photography?
Sean Higgins: I guess I don’t really consider myself a photographer per se, at least not in the traditional sense. Mostly when I shoot, I am not concerned so much with what’s in the viewfinder, as much as what I can do with the images once I get them back home and into the computer. Generally when I shoot, I already have an idea of what is going to happen to the images once I start working on a piece back in the studio. So I approach photography that way. It’s a very utilitarian method of shooting.
The Skeeve: Why so few people and animals in your pictures?
Sean Higgins: People or animals are too concrete a subject for me. Without figures, the image can be from different times or places, keeping the images unanchored. I want to give the viewer space to stand alone within the work. The lack of figures is a way of hinting that my images possibly could be post-apocalyptic. A lot of times, something else within the image acts as a surrogate for the figure.
All images copyright Sean Higgins.