MATT SAUNDERS (b.1975, Tacoma, Washington), BORNEO (ROSE HOBART) #5, VERSION 2, 2013, analogue color photograph on Fuji Crystal Archive, matte paper, 2013, The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, Gift of Barbara ’68 and Theodore ’68 Alfond. 2013.34.153
This is Matt Saunders’ Borneo (Rose Hobart) #5, Version 2, from 2013. It depicts Depression-era actress Rose Hobart in a film still from the 1931 movie East of Borneo directed by George Melford.
Saunders was born in 1975 in Tacoma, Washington. In 1997, he received a BA in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard College. He completed his MFA in Painting and Printmaking in 2000 at the Yale University School, and moved to Berlin in 2002.
Unlike most photographers, instead of using a camera to capture an image, Saunders uses materials like oil paints, inks, and mylar and linen. In his non-traditional process he paints a scene that inherently acts as a base. He then transfers it to photo paper and “develops” the image.
Saunders purposefully combines techniques that are non-mechanical and artist-driven in order to produce works that call attention to their material and process.
In this composition, Rose Hobart comprises the majority of the space. Her form has been pushed forward and occupies a space that is closest to the viewer. Looking closely, Hobart’s face, left side, and her right arm are cast in shadow while the right side of her torso is dramatically lit.
The dramatic contrast of light and dark cause the figure to stand out. The washed out colors of the background blend together and emphasize the verticality of this composition. There are two diagonals that echo the lines created by her arms and converge above her head at the center of the top edge. Saunders’ work reveals an unmistakable drama.
In a 2011 interview, Saunders stated that he is “interested in the private experience of a performance and its mediation.” The drama and theatricality of the image allows viewers to project their own memories and continuing narrative onto Hobart’s figure as it steps out from the curtain.