Sunday, September 16, 2007


In cahoots with the kick off of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, Jackson Fine Art opened solo shows of David Hilliard and Sam Taylor-Wood Friday night. I was looking forward to seeing the new work of both accomplished photographers but found the shows to be pretty dull.

David Hilliard's work, while sometimes teetering on the edge of being too literal and a bit cheesy, is evocative story telling and plays with the formal qualities of photography - the best works, in my opinion, really messing with perspective and examining vision and memory.

The newest work, shown under the name "Saturate" seemed too formulaic, almost empty in expression, the work indeed seemed too saturated in the style of Hilliard without the artist pushing into new territory.

As in the image above , the photograph "Immersed - 2007," (the titled being beyond corny considering the figure is reading a book while wading in water) is too reminiscent of "Susie Floating - 2002", which, for me, has a much more interesting perspective and less literal purpose.

Here are a couple of other works that are too good not to mention when talking about Hilliard, though nothing this interesting at Jackson Fine Art this time around.

"Hot Coffee, Soft Porn" 1999

"Black Sheep" 2007

Sam Taylor-Wood's show "Crying Men" was also hard for me to get into. Out of all of her work, this series is the least interesting (but my opinion may be biased by my extreme dislike of celebrity culture - or more specifically, our country's obsession with it.) This isn't to say I don't think the Jolie-Pitt clan is cute too, but when it comes to fine art photography haven't celebrities already been photographed enough? Their images carry extraordinary weight, easily hijacking the artist's efforts while simultaneously unable to penetrate a viewer already numbed to these images, losing interest quickly in someone who lives their life in front of a camera.

In response to this though, Sam Taylor-Wood would say I am not getting it, because that is the entire point. Taylor-Wood spent three years tracking down male actors that she then asked to cry for her so that she could photograph them. She wanted to expose a softer side to men while at the same time leaving the viewer confused as to whether the actor is actually crying, or indeed acting. With most, maybe all, of these portraits the actor is surely acting. How can anyone really cry while a stranger is sitting there watching you through a lens? But these are incredibly good actors, and so moving the images that you begin to doubt yourself and think, perhaps, she caught an unguarded moment for these very guarded men. When photographing Ed Harris, his "performance" was so moving that Taylor-Wood began crying herself, and Harris stopped crying, asking her, "are you alright?"

I am big fan of of Philip Seymour Hoffman, but honestly, haven't we seen him cry in every movie he has ever done? Does this image not lose it's intended effect? (Beautiful though it might be)

To hear more about this I went to the Sam Taylor-Wood talk at Woodruff Arts Center on Saturday. I was met by a giant image of David Beckham sleeping and decided Taylor-Wood had completely sold out and I wanted to leave.

But then she won me over. Taylor-Wood turned out to be incredibly charming, funny, easy going, and candid, showing a glimpse into the way she works and explaining that she did not want to photograph Beckham but was asked by the National Portrait Gallery to do the commission and then decided to do a film of him sleeping, as a sort of reaction to the over-kill of Beckham laden images in the media.

Interestingly, Taylor-Wood was trained as a sculptor at Goldsmiths and only starting working with video and photography after she was out of school. I can especially see this sculptural interest in the series of work she has done using herself, such as "Self Portrait Suspended I."

A lot of Taylor-Woods imagery is based off of or influenced by classical paintings, recasting the figures to examine gender. The photograph "Sleep" is beautiful.
What I especially liked about Taylor-Wood was her approach to creating work. She did not bore the audience describing an overly-intellectual agenda of creating emotionally detached art for the purpose of ego and critic pleasing. If anything, she played down the conceptual intentions and focused on the pleasure and humor of making work. Taylor-Wood went so far as to admit she got the idea for the video "Ascension" from a daydream and only later began to see the implications of the work.

After I left the talk - Atlanta was beautiful outside! Time to go to the mountains!

"Saturate" and "Crying Men" are at Jackson Fine Art through Oct, 27th, 07.


Jeff Surace said...

I truly appreciate your efforts in commenting on shows around Atlanta. It seems some of the fustrating things about living here keep us holed up from experiencing peoples efforts in art. I've enjoyed seeing where you've gone and opinions about it. I do believe though this city has way too many photographers.

Jonathan said...

It can especially feel that way in October when it becomes difficult to find any other art showing. It becomes overly saturdated. And I think Jackson Fine Art and Elton John have done a lot to increase the status of collecting photography in Atlanta - but having said that, most galleries still say photography is much harder to sell here than drawings or paintings.

darin said...

Jonathan, I had the opposite reaction when I walked into the auditorium and saw the video of David Beckham sleeping. I didn't recognize him and at first thought I was looking at a handsome woman, say, Martina Navratilova. I loved the androgyny. So for me it is much more successful at showing a vulnerable side to male icons than is the Men Crying series, which seems a bit forced.

I love David Hilliard's work but have to agree with you that this recent work is not as engaging.

Jonathan said...

Hey Darin- I agree the video of Beckham is more successful than the Crying Men series. There is a great vulnerability to watching someone sleep - especially someone who spends so much of their waking life posing. It also makes me wonder if its easier for us to trust video as truth telling more so than the photograph?