Osceola Refetoff’s interest is in documenting humanity’s impact on the world — both the intersection of nature and industry, and the narratives of the people living at those crossroads. His images exist within traditional means — landscape, portraiture, travel, editorial — and are variously produced using film, digital, infrared, color, and pinhole exposures according to what best expresses the character of his subjects. Thus despite his documentarian impulses, and the fact that his images deliberately depict quite ordinary, even mundane, aspects of his subjects, he trains on these subjects a hyper-realistic and nuanced vision, often yielding surreal and even dreamlike images. “It’s important to me that these images document the actual,” says Refetoff. “The world doesn’t need elaborate post-production to be more interesting.” His whole process generally happens “in camera,” at the moment of capture, in a kind of alchemical reaction that transforms the external world through engagement with imagination, into something both unchanged and extraordinary.
Refetoff has an appreciation for the quirks and rebellions of technology that thwart the medium’s pretentions of authoritative objectivity, reminding viewers that the photographic document is always a collaboration between a human and a machine, and asking questions about truth, dispassion, control, and invention that are inherently a part of how photography functions in the world. But ultimately it’s people and places he’s chronicling; so even as the images address the circumstances of their making, Refetoff feels that their most important task is to speak to the nuanced narrative and poetic array of human experience.
From Desert Windows examining the formal gestures that people use to frame and contain their relationship to the landscape; to related series like Dust to Dust, Magic and Realism, and Flirting with Disaster examining how they build their lives and move through these lands, Refetoff shifts between stylistic modes of representation to build layered, multidimensional histories of architecture, landscape, and population. What links all the forms and aspects of his eclectic practice is not the imposition of any singular vision, but rather a commitment to figuring out “what the picture requires,” using the many potential qualities of the different cameras he carries to render not only what a place looks like, but also, how it feels to be there. “In almost all of my work, I’m after the authentic character of things as they are, not composited inventions of what we expect them to be.”