The Playground Series: Francisco Diaz & Deb Young

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young are the true and unique artists of simulacrum. The International Collaboration Project founded by Francisco Diaz (USA) and Deb Young (New Zealand) bring global artists together in a virtual collaboration in the photographic medium. The idea of photographers working together digitally in real time, while being separated by over the 8000 miles and the16 hours minus of Time Zone differences, each looking through the same camera lens and unique concept of photo manipulation to shape its unique piece of art was revolutionary. Still, it is. "The Playground Series" portfolio explores the basic idea of the play-element in our culture. Stories they tell us are a complex social dialogue of the earliest human interaction and the reality of the playground and play. Children's life is complicated and powerful. It is about letting experience be large then knowledge and choosing the present reality rather than the plan.


Follow the Leader

Francisco Diaz and Deb Young "The Playground Society" is one of those projects that blew out my mind at first sight. As I began writing this essay, I was reading Rebecca Solnit's book "Men Explain Things to Me" on what often goes wrong in communication between man and woman. I have to admit that the aspect of gender wars and dramas has impacted my work in spite of the fact that Young and Diaz processed interactions and dramas of children's play. My personal stream of consciousness follows Solnit's path of Virginia Wolf and Susan Sontag's darkness, continuously switching on my European background. It reminds me of the John Huizing's study of the play-element in our culture, then leads me to Jean Baudrillard Postmodern concept of simulacrum and hyper-real which "bears no relation to any reality whatsoever". Beauty and aesthetics of their photorealism recall the dark substance and atmosphere of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis". Young and Diaz put together random images in a classic narrative photo story. It seems to me that their portfolio has so many layers of meaning. The main idea behind the topic is the complexity of human interaction. Images that come out of photo manipulations became a structural study, which revealed the complexity of human relationship from the earliest phase of our life. Among other things, "The Playground Society" brings out the idea that our world is nothing but the fiction imitated by perceptions and boundaries we created.


Poking the Hornets Nest

In the time 2014 - 2017, Young and Diaz were working together on several different subjects using the same unique aspect of photo manipulation. Through their collaboration, ideas, concepts and working processes of their life and careers became relevant in the world of fine art photography. Young and Diaz create a parallel world and sets kids in the traditional narrative stories. They integrated hundreds of random and unrelated photos in the illusion of one cohesive image. Diaz and Young created photomontages as an imaginary playground that perceives us (humans) as social animals. Their portraits of children on the playground captured some basic values of classic street photography. A playground is a common place where real social drama of our lives first starts. It is the first public place we become aware of. Diaz and Young include common features of the game as competition. Those images found that the sophisticated social connections, interactions, and patterns of social behavior start at an early age in our childhood. Their conceptual photography derived from an idea of the game as an integral part of the human social interaction. Childhood, as a serious job of growing up, is the main object of Francisco Diaz and Deb Young's interest. It is storytelling where children tend to take confirmation of their (our) mental models. Most of our behavior starts at the children's playground, on the swing set, slide, sandpit or the tree branches. Sometimes it starts with sharing the ice cream, the swing or a bicycle.


The Light

Cultural and social influences on the "The Playground Society" are quite obvious and exceptional. Young and Diaz share with us moments that could be memories of our childhood. Those images focus on the complexity and drama of human relationship that is not hard on the children, because they are brave and wide open to the possibilities. There is so much they don't know, and playground is the battlefield of their life. On the playground, children can separate place and time, elements of fiction, the uncertainty of the future, and personal enjoyment of the moment. Young and Diaz find that moment and some basic beauty in the fact that children don't care about what will happen next. It is about wandering, identifying, and playing a role. In this case, the game and children's play is the first form of our social engagement and first political imagination and action, and playground is the place of our first duels, demonstrations, uprisings, fights, loves, and affections. Young and Diaz's images show us the basic core of consciousness, identity, and freedom in a way that "All play means something" as in Johan Huizing "Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture":

In play, there is something "at play" which transcends the immediate needs of life and imparts meaning to the action. All play means something. If we call the active principle that makes up the essence of play, "instinct", we explain nothing; if we call it "mind" or "will" we say too much. However we may regard it, the very fact that play has a meaning implies a non-materialistic quality in the nature of the thing itself. - Johan Huizing: Homo Ludens

Also, it reminds me of my University professor Vitomir Belaj and Old Slavic Ethnology as a major. He repeatedly emphasized that an ethnologist or ethnographer has to study children's games because all games once were serious rituals of adults. Diaz and Young underline serious notes that exist on the playground. It is about the seeds of interactions, relationships, and social skills of our adult life. That seed is planted and visible in our games and play on the playground.


The Sack Race 1

Young and Diaz's black-and-white digital photo manipulation with strong documentary style is a unique and new approach to digital photography. It is a collaboration that creates a powerful and balanced synergy between male and female poles. They create unique simulated environments and virtual reality that might become our memory. But it is not. The boundary between artificial and reality in their work is not a moral issue anymore. They emphasize the great importance of the working process and photo manipulations of virtual reality. Young and Diaz create revolutionary fine art conceptual photography. It is a new step into furthering the concept of simulacra and simulacrum. In his essay: "Simulacra and Science Fiction", Jean Baudrillard wrote:

The imaginary was a pretext of the real in a world dominated by the reality principle. Today, it is the real which has become the pretext of the model in a world governed by the principles of simulation. And, paradoxically, it is the real which has become our true utopia – but a utopia that is no longer a possibility, utopias we can do no more than dream about, like a lost object. - Jean Baudrillard: Simulacra and Science Fiction

It is a basic postulate of Postmodernism concept we could find in Young and Diaz works. Young and Diaz's images of children's play are an imaginary transcontinental introspection of our potential experience. The fact being that these might be our personal memories of a lost childhood. On the playground across the world, the past and the future do not exist. Children are not obsessed with the future. They live in moment, and Young and Diaz are focused on the present: some potential parallel reality of the playgrounds all over the Western World. Playground images exemplify the importance of the moment and reality we create. It is a celebration of the present despite the melancholic feeling of recollection. The thing is that blurred recollection is just a postmodern simulacra of our childhood.


The Wait

Diaz and Young focus on the little things, events, dramas and crisis, and open places of the unknown. The story they built on the playground tell us that at that point of our life there still are no limits of knowledge and the doors of perception are wide open, and essential mysteries of life are challenging. On the other hand, we could claim that Diaz and Young anticipate we build our boundaries, feed our fears with cautions, and fill the blanks with our version of the truth. As adults, sometimes we know less about human relationships than we recognize in children's play. Diaz and Young saw the playground as a place for a great starting point to build our imagination, optimism, and confidence in the basic creative ability of hope. It is all about value and importance of children's play. It is about imagination we raised when we were still small, brave and open minded. In most of the games and situations in Young and Diaz's images, we can find decisive moments of our life and childhood, and there is beauty in this photographic journey.


The Watcher


Water Pistols

About authors Diaz & Young

Francisco Diaz (1962, Brooklyn, New York, US) is an American photographer and artist (painting, performance) born and brought up in Brooklyn (New York). With his Cuban-Spanish family heritage and national origin, and Coney Island childhood years, he approaches to art in a multi-layered way with strong Latino and Hispanic background and influences of artists like Goya, El Greco, and Espinosa. He points out that one of the biggest impacts on his life was cheap supermarket encyclopedia that introduces him to Leonardo da Vinci and Renaissance Man concept and idea. He earned a BA and MA in studio art at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. Diaz works to establish a strong link between the painting and conceptual approach to photography in his collaboration with Deb Young. His input in their concept focused on structural, spatial and color ideas of Flemish Renaissance painting of the 15century. His works sometimes radiate some inner drama and latent cinematic violence influenced by directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino, Akira Kurosawa, John Woo and Danny Boyle. Rather than presenting a factual reality, in his collaboration with Young, Diaz uses photo manipulation and produces the illusion of a chimerical field of imagination.

Francisco Diaz is a first prize winner at both the Texas Photographic Society International Photography Competition and the New York Center for Photographic Arts, in NYC. He was one of only three core American photographers invited to exhibit at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in Australia. In past years his collaboration with Deb Young has won several international important awards, including International Photographer of the Year at the 6th Edition Pollux Awards, the 3rd Biennial of Fine Art and Documentary Photography Malaga (Spain), 9th Julia Margaret Cameron Award, 4th Biennial of Fine Art + Documentary Photography in Berlin, Photo Lucida Critical Mass Top50 2016 in Portland (Oregon), and Moscow International Foto Awards. His work and collaboration was featured in Blure Magazine, Lenschratch, Lens Culture, Virtual Artbeat, PH Magazine, R foto folio, The Boston Globe, Stop Magazine, L'Oeil de la Photographie, Silvershotz Magazine, Musée Magazine, Beekman Boy Site, Lens Work Magazine, Photogrvphy Magazine & Grant, Propa Magazine, Creative Boom Magazine, to name a few. Recent exhibitions include Susan Spiritus Gallery (California), Gilman Contemporary (Idaho), the Center for Fine Art Photography (Colorado) and the Kolga Awards in Tbilisi (Georgia), Klompcing Gallery and Soho Photo Gallery (New York City), Castell Gallery, Ashville (NC), Approaching the Unreal Exhibition at Modernbook Gallery, San Francisco (CA), L'Aiguillage Galerie, Paris (France), The Auckland Festival of Photography (New Zealand), Griffin Museum of Photography's Peter Urban Legacy Exhibition (MA).

Francisco Diaz's works demonstrate the unique vision of the International Collaboration Project as a unique artistic effort of blending creative energies from the different parts of the globe. His works are notable for conceptual nature and positive humanistic approach in true cooperation of great importance. Francisco Diaz lives in Montclair, New Jersey (United States).

Deb Young (1963, Christchurch, New Zealand) is a New Zealand photographer and photojournalist, born and brought up in Christchurch (New Zealand). She first became interested in photography as a teenager but her passion for photography came to life when she was given the opportunity to work behind the scenes on the publication of New Zealand Photography Magazine. She was involved in editing, shooting, image processing, judging the monthly run competitions and interviewing professional photographers. Later she would receive her Photographic Society of New Zealand licentiate certification. That early connection prompted Young to pick up a camera again, years later after raising her family. With a fascination for documentary photography, she began shooting the streets of Auckland using a variety of analog cameras. She points out that one of the biggest impacts on her photography was in editing and documentary that introduces her to the variety of process and postproduction. Young works establish a strong link between the photojournalism and conceptual approach to photography in his collaboration with Francisco Diaz. Her input in their concept focused on storytelling, editing and image processing of the analog era. By emphasizing aesthetic and experience from the photojournalism, her photography responds to the surrounding because she wanted to create images that related cinematic documentary work in their look. Her influences are photographers like Robert Frank, Daido Moriyama, Fred Herzog, Alfred Hitchcock and the Hudson River School of painting. Rather than presenting a factual reality and documentary, in her collaboration with Diaz, Young uses photo manipulation and montage. By exploring the narrative concept of Robert Frank's way, she moves toward into a world of images that articulate the present issues and collaboration with Francisco Diaz. Her collaboration was selected to appear in the book 'Fossils of Light + Time'.

Deb Young in her collaboration with Francisco Diaz has won several international important awards, including International Photographer of the Year at the 6th Edition Pollux Awards, the 3rd Biennial of Fine Art and Documentary Photography Malaga (Spain), 9th Julia Margaret Cameron Award, 4th Biennial of Fine Art + Documentary Photography in Berlin, Photo Lucida Critical Mass Top50 2016 in Portland (Oregon), and Moscow International Foto Awards. Her work and collaboration was featured in Blure Magazine, Lenschratch, Lens Culture, Virtual Artbeat, PH Magazine, R foto folio, The Boston Globe, Stop Magazine, L'Oeil de la Photographie, Silvershotz Magazine, Musée Magazine, Beekman Boy Site, Lens Work Magazine, Photogrvphy Magazine & Grant, Propa Magazine, Creative Boom Magazine, to name a few. Recent exhibitions include Susan Spiritus Gallery (California), Gilman Contemporary (Idaho), the Center for Fine Art Photography (Colorado) and the Kolga Awards in Tbilisi (Georgia), Klompcing Gallery and Soho Photo Gallery (New York City), Castell Gallery, Ashville (NC), Approaching the Unreal Exhibition at Modernbook Gallery, San Francisco (CA), L'Aiguillage Galerie, Paris (France), The Auckland Festival of Photography (New Zealand), Griffin Museum of Photography's Peter Urban Legacy Exhibition (MA).

Deb Young's works demonstrate the unique vision of the International Collaboration Project as a unique artistic effort of blending creative energies from the different parts of the globe. Her works are notable for conceptual nature and positive humanistic approach in true cooperation of great importance. Deb Young currently lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand.

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