Monday, February 11, 2008

We Are the Animals

I went to hear photographer Judy Linn give a talk for her show "Early Recent Late Photographs 1970-2007" which opened at The Contemporary last weekend.

Stuart Horodner introduced Linn, and gave brief explanation about what The Contemporary looks for in the artists and "consequential" art they show. They are interested in art which 1) pushes the history of that particular medium 2) contributes to the subject matter 3) brings something new to the region (i.e. work not previously shown in the south.)

Linn definitely met the requirements. As quirky and straightforward as her photographs, Linn gave an excellent insight into her approach towards wielding a camera which began to more resemble thoughts on life than any technical or conceptual rhetoric.

Seeing Linn's work was like a breath of fresh air for me, as a photographer of sorts this show reminded me of why I enjoy photography. It makes sense that Horodner would want to show Linn's work now, giving a stark contrast to the trends of contemporary photography today where billboard sized color prints of staged theatrics are all the rage.

All of the details that tend to bog down or distract photographers are ignored by Linn. She doesn't allow herself to worry about anything beyond shooting, and even that action is downplayed by Linn who says "show what is there instead of trying to make a photograph." She went on to joke that any shot she initially likes while photographing is inevitably something she has "seen before" (hence the initial attraction, the "oh now this a photograph" moment) and will eventually be edited out. Linn is interested in the "illogical, things on the edge of disaster."

As a photographer I am always questioning the way photography is hung, it's a never ending point on contention, a feeling that the presentation of the work always hinders the art. Linn's show is one of the rare exhibitions that actually succeeds in emphasizing the subject matter and style of the photographs by the way in which they are presented. It's a seemingly casual, playful approach to laying out the work but each photograph triggers the next, the groupings like curious thoughts which give to the viewer a glimpse into Linn's perspective on the world.
Considering this grouping of work spans forty years and is still so cohesive, Linn's approach to photography has been unwavering, and her editing thoughtful.

The prints are small (in comparison to most contemporary photography) and most umatted or framed, simply pressed between plexi to show the "physicalness" of the fiber paper. The wrinkled edges of the paper show signs of the darkroom printing process. "Embrace the wrinkle" Linn said when I asked her about the decision to display the work so simply.

The photographs have the air of being enlarged proof prints. Linn does not try to make "perfect" prints in the darkroom. Many are blown out or too dark and would have been sent back into the darkroom immediately for a changed of the aperture by any Photo Lab I professor. I asked Linn about this and she said she was more interested in printing as she remembered the moment, trying to capture the light and tone of that place. She wants her images to vibrate with the fluorescent lights that were above the subject or the real darkness of the night shot when less is visible to the human eye than to the camera.

It's fitting too that the gallery space feels like proofs prints up for review because this editing is where Linn's voice really takes shape. It's apparent from the varied subject matter that Linn shoots a lot and she said that she covers her studio walls in proof prints that she then "stews over for a long time." This "stewing" is where the art happens.


Linn said that the reason she moved from painting to photography many years ago was because she "couldn't figure out photography. She couldn't understand how she could take a photograph that was smarter than she was." I felt a similar confusion as the viewer. Studying the seemingly simple photographs I couldn't understand what it was about them that I found so charming. Was it the grouping as a whole or was each photograph teeming with a vibrancy that I found so affecting?

Really, go see this show! My photographs do these photographs no justice. Show up (along with three others) at The Contemporary until March 29th 2008.

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