Riffs on Real Time is a three-part photographic series completed between 2002 and 2009, with each work comprising 10 color photographs. Hewitt’s production of the series follows a set compositional order: she takes discarded artifacts from American mass culture such as newspapers, magazines, books, manila envelopes, amateur snapshots, and other ephemera and repurposes them into visual assemblages. She then composes the objects into stacked arrangements and photographs each composition against the backdrop of hardwood floors or carpets commonly found in households. Hewitt’s intricate layering of these materials is a decidedly postmodern take on the still life.
Often culled from vintage or used sources, the worn original images create a nostalgic overtone as well as refer to the passage of time. The foreground or first layer—an image of a living room, a tourist snapshot of a vast outdoor landscape, or a candid shot of children playing in the backyard—suggests a personal iconography. The second layer evokes circulated material culture via an item like a map, schoolbook, magazine, or computer diagram. From protest literature to snapshots of marches and gatherings, archival material gathered from African American communities, particularly 1960s civil rights memorabilia, harkens back to Hewitt’s childhood and her parents’ involvement in the movement and can be found in either layer. The need for positive change and sense of urgency that grew from hard-won racial and sociopolitical struggles in the Unites States and contemporaneous African independence movements resonate in Hewitt’s work. The third layer is a background of flooring or carpet that reveals various dings, scrapes, or gouges resulting from everyday use. Within this third, seemingly domesticated layer, Hewitt allows the sense of myriad public and private selves to collide and converse. The individual images within each composition tell a story, but their juxtaposition complicates it by calling into question the relationship each image has with the others.
The title Riffs on Real Time is a play on the passage of time. In music, riffs are melodic and rhythmic improvisations, popularized through jazz. Similarly, Hewitt improvises within the medium of photography by shooting each varying composition and allowing for combinations and relationships to flourish among the three full series. Hewitt creates a story within a story, while crafting her own unique visual language. The multiple layers of textured items, color, and patterns become a metaphor for how memory, history, and common materials can be manipulated, transformed, restaged, and in turn powerfully shape the lens through which American culture and even art making is viewed.