Jim Kazanjian: Flirting with Photography

jimk2His photographs can’t help but make you think twice. Whether staring at an old house atop tractor trailer wheels or a beach house sitting on top of a mountainous separation surrounded by an icy river with fire and smoke in the background, you know right away something isn’t right.  Nothing about them is logical, but somehow, they make sense as if they are artifacts from another world. Of course you know that such architecture doesn’t exist, but it seems so real. Despite fighting hard to come up with some kind of explanation, you’re left wondering how in the world was such a thing created? The short answer is with Portland, Oregon’s digital artist Jim Kazanjian’s computer.

A commercial Computer Generated Imagery artist by profession, Kazanjian’s photographs, or composites, as he likes to call them are digital creations made from photographs found online. In fact, at no point whatsoever does he use a camera or take a photograph. Instead, he searches through a library of 25,000 photos and uses Photoshop to work his magic. “My whole process is about harvesting visual data, chopping it up and recombining it into something else,” he told Arrested Motion, an online magazine covering worldwide news on contemporary art. “It is essentially ‘collage’ but my tools are entirely digital. Everything is, at the root of it, all zeroes and ones. It is just code.” But these “photos” created by conglomerations of elaborate code depict apocalyptic themes that demonstrate Kazanjian’s fascination of the sublime and time travel.


In almost every collage photograph the familiar is stripped away and deconstructed. What’s left is otherworldly as if Kazanjian himself has traveled outside of time. Compelled by his fantasy world, viewers are left basking in the greatness of structures and places so close yet so far away. It’s almost as if Kazanjian invites those that love his art into his world of computer generated images and games. “I’m interested in building an image that has the capacity to ‘unravel’ and to begin to suggest something outside of itself,” he told Art Nouveau, a magazine focusing on pop culture and art. Interestingly enough, his photographs collectively unravel as a clear illustration of the man himself.

Like his photo collages, Kazanjian is a blend of different things. A graduate of both  Kansas City Art Institute and Art Center College of Design, his educational background, like most of the architecture in his photos, is familiar. His obsessions though, evident through his consistent play with dark and apocalyptic themes are less familiar, but very fascinating. “The Shining,” his favorite Horror film, seems to emanate an eerie yet captivating aura in his work. His passion for architecture shines in almost every photo as creepy houses and old abandoned castles are often the focal points of his art. Fascinated by ghost stories and compelled by H.P Lovecraft’s dark cosmology, moons and ominous skies provide the perfect escapist moments for the Portland, Oregon resident. But this same artist, who boasts of never really having to leave his studio, has worked for some of the most social brands around: Nike, NBC, CBS, HP, Intel and HBO. Like his work, he is an anomaly, created from a little bit of this, some of that and a touch of sublime mystery.


Though the photographs he uses are always black and white, Jim Kazanjian isn’t as easy to describe. Instead, he can be found in the grey, that bewitching blend of mystery and curiosity. What I like most about him is how he flirts with both dark and light, with both visual art and narrative and with time and space. Through his wild dates with photographs found online and Photoshop, we too can escape within the free reign of our minds, imagining the impossible as possible and the fantastical as ordinary. Like his favorite writer HP Lovecraft wrote in a letter to Vernon Shea, there is “a kind of intoxication in being lord of a visible world (albeit a miniature one) and determining the flow of events.” This is very true of Kazanjian’s art. Can’t you feel it when you look at the photographs? That artistic high that slowly whisks you away, that seductive escapism that takes over the mind and makes you wonder? I’m sure you do. Good thing its just Kazanjian flirting with technology. Otherwise, we’d be forced to sign up for rehab.

-Sharita Gilmore