Private Spaces: An Intimate Look at Interiors
4/25/2015 - 6/6/2015
Imagine an uninhabited dimly lit room containing a dining table and chairs covered in white sheets with a landscape painting hanging on the wall. Remnants from a meal are scattered about and a silver chalice is placed on a covered table. An illuminated butterfly rests on a wildflower in the foreground. A door is somewhat ajar offering a glimpse into an ambiguous space of a brightly lit room with light streaming through a glass window. It is a room filled with a beautiful latent symbolism, but what exactly is occurring in this room? Has someone just exited the room leaving behind traces from an unfinished meal? Has someone exited out a window or open doorway? Has the butterfly just entered the room? And how many people were at the table?
This photograph is entitled, ”La Cene” and is by Bernard Faucon. It exemplifies the variety of open-ended narratives that can arise within viewers when the photographer acts as a kind of narrator. Faucon never elaborates on what is happening in his pictures. He, and other photographers in this exhibition can create or capture enigmatic scenes where the viewers vicariously enter the spaces as voyeurs and have to give meaning to the picture. That an image of a private interior space is rich enough to sustain multiple meanings and encourage a range of emotions, desires and feelings within the viewer is key to the power of these photographs in “Private Spaces: An Intimate Look at Interiors.” Spaces can and often do evoke a complex reading. Cameras allow people to gaze into a private space from a safe distance and specific point of view and scrutinize the privileged world behind closed doors. People have an innate curiosity of the hidden, mysterious and concealed and photographers have drawn on this observation, empowered by the camera, to visually invite people into their worlds. The viewer becomes a participant, quasi-detective investigating scenes with hints and symbols that help structure the “reading” of a particular environment.
Massimo Listri’s photographs are pure studies of spaces that are devoid of people. They are generally private aristocratic interiors that were built centuries ago including churches, museums, libraries, private and public palaces. The pictures are architectural studies full of signs, symbols and icons that all suggest the human component and mythology of their purposes. They are psychologically rich and invite viewers to ponder over the histories of these glorious spaces, and the people that have and do inhabit them.
The intimate relationships between individuals interacting behind closed doors, recorded by photographers, can also have very personal significances. This is the case with John Dugdale’s highly personal images in which he presents stirring portraits and still-lifes that are all reflections on domestic life. He has never used models that were not friends, lovers, and family, and collects artifacts from the 19th century that are immensely meaningful to himself. His world is a soulful and spiritual world and his pictures are almost always intimate and charged with symbolism and personal pathos.
On the other hand, Brassai’s portrayals of 1930’s Parisian nightlife are a famous study of a world that every Parisian knew existed – but no one recorded. His world is a social one in which he gained access and allowed viewers to enter the underworld of the brothels, nightclubs, cafes, and streets of nocturnal Paris. The pictures were made in the 1930’s and 1940’s and were contemporary for their time, but are now a fascinating record of the legendary “Paris at Night.” The images are still enthralling and engaging and they have not lost their voyeuristic fascination.
Taken as a whole, the exhibition “Private Spaces: An Intimate Look at Interiors” surveys life’s emotionally and physically concealed spaces through the power of the camera and shares these magically compelling images with the viewer. It is a study of untold stories, wide-ranging desires, and the power of imagination.