Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Philippe Vergne

Green, the image is all green, almost monochromatic but not quite. The photograph articulates various shades of green, from dark to light. The center, slightly off center, is dark and seems to open toward a space, corridor like, to the left. The image could be perceived as ambiguous, even though ambiguity does not seem to be part of Zoe Strauss’s vocabulary. She goes to the point.

Six lines define colors, angles and depth on the surface of the image. One from the higher left part and going down and intersecting with another line going up toward the right, therefore defining a first angle. From the center of the lower edge a lines run vertically up, dividing the cliché in two, but breaking towards the center to initiate another line going up in the direction of the upper left corner of the work. From the vertical right edge of the print, and going softly down, another line crosses the picture before being interrupted by the vertical line previously described. A dark beam of shade crosses the upper section of the picture.

These lines and angles shape a corner of a room, its walls; its ceiling viewed from below and lit either by the flash of the camera of by a weak lamp in the room. The walls are green, or appear green due to the quality, or lack of quality of the lighting. The walls are bare, as the ceiling. There is nobody to stare at but a lot to see; nothing to look at aside from an uncanny, pictorial and emotional geometry.

There are no signs, no pictures on the walls, no hanging calendar, no family images, no human or time stains to decipher as in other works by Strauss; no traces of time or place. It is a bare corner, an opaque photograph, a blind spot. The location is unknown though familiar: a “lieu commun;” a commonplace.

But remarkably this image with no sign or asperity is both a sign and an asperity on its own; a sign that does not capture a time or a space, as photography does, but a sign that evokes a place, meaning a space with humanity; a space that might be bare but that is not uninhabited.

Depicting a place without qualities but carrying an introverted fatality this work evokes other images by Strauss such as Fireworks and Overhead Wires, flirts with abstraction but could only be realized, captured, and snapped through a phenomenon opposite to abstraction: inclusion. The photographer does not abstract herself from her subject; instead she appears to participate. There is no divide between subject and object; no objectivity, no subjectivity, but inclusiveness and protagonists. Zoe Strauss photographs from within. What she prints, we might not like, we might not want to look at or we might not want to admit that it lies next to us. We might prefer thinking that it is a different world; it is not.

Of course, there is in her work the memory of Walker Evans, of the Family of Man, of Dorothea Lange, of photographers who brought us together by documenting the crisis of a time and of a place. But the way Zoe Strauss proceeds resists the crisis mode, the drama. There is not crisis as what she frames might just be the simple, abrupt reality, normal reality of many. Crisis would suggest a change, and some things just never change.

From within, she is able to depict her world, our world, a green room, a neighbor, a supermarket wall, an empty billboard, a homeless person or the burning Deepwater oil drilling platform, beyond social critic or incriminating whimpering, but with empathy, compassion, joy and often humor. No voyeurism , just a sense of civic responsibility where nothing, nobody is idealized, but when and where there is a body, one can actually see in her or his eyes that they are looking at the photographer more than at the camera. Furthermore, they are looking with the photographer. Zoe Strauss does not take photographs. It would be a unilateral, un-generous gesture, a form of abduction. She depicts and represents through photography, the space, social, historical and human, that constitutes our present time. Her images anticipate our memories.

And eventually, my own proustian little patch of yellow wall might just be a little patch of green wall.

- Philippe Vergne

In response to Nick's Pizza

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