MARCH 27 – MAY 8, 2021
When we think of rooms most of us draw on mental pictures of predictable spaces that are very familiar and give us a sense of security. We tend to see, and live in a fixed and predictable diurnal environment. But for many photographers rooms or interior spaces have often presented themselves as challenges and invitations to see creatively and not be hemmed in by social conventions. A room, as a subject, can resonate with potential possibilities. It can metaphorically be akin to an artist’s palette waiting to be brought to life through a new creation. The photographs of Karen Knorr, Massimo Listri, Sandy Skoglund, Michael Eastman, John Dugdale and Bernard Faucon present new approaches and unique visions to picturing space.
When we encourage a child to open up their world and expand their horizons we often tell them to “use their imaginations.” This act of conjuring possibilities and freeing themselves from the logical constructs and repetitive norms can be liberating. One attribution often ascribed to a great photographer (or for that matter any creative person) is that they have an active and engaging imagination and can mentally construct vivid images.
When we think of rooms most of us draw on mental pictures of predictable spaces that are very familiar and give us a sense of security. We tend to see, and live in a fixed and predictable diurnal environment. But for many photographers rooms or interior spaces have often presented themselves as challenges and invitations to see creatively and not be hemmed in by social conventions. A room, as a subject, can resonate with potential possibilities. It can metaphorically be akin to an artist’s palette waiting to be brought to life through a new creation.
The photographs of Karen Knorr, Massimo Listri, Sandy Skoglund, Michael Eastman, John Dugdale and Bernard Faucon present new approaches and unique visions to picturing space. Each photographer reaches beyond the mere physical appearance of a room. They are interested in finding an equivalent for the experience of being in a room, and how it makes us feel. A room can be a reservoir for real or imagined memories. Rooms take on less of a descriptive and more of an emotive and subjective function. The shared and individual experiences that each of us experiences, give the photographers and ourselves the basic resources to evaluate these unique spaces.
The temporal dimension of picture making is complex. Photographs are created by their makers in the present – but are always presented to the viewer in the past. Something has already been photographed and we are looking at the result of the way a room looked, or the evidence of what occurred in the past. However, the act of looking is always in the present – yet what we remember belongs to the past. This critical distinction often shapes our response to what we are seeing.
This temporal exchange can give a nostalgic feel – or can touch on something in our minds and emotions that connect us to the pictures and spaces they represent. We can admire the qualities within, be awed or humbled by their structures, or feel pathos for an unknown, but imagined, life that has disappeared. Our deepest connections are always complex and involve several senses – they are seldom limited to the visual. Spaces contain histories – we know some of the histories, but some, created by artists, are potential vessels of imagined or recreated experiences.
Photographers such as Massimo Listri and Michael Eastman – photograph a room as they see it. Their selection and criteria for what is worthy of being photographed is based on a location that they find special – or memorable. For Listri, it will have formal elements of architecture like repeating patterns of column, arches, tiles, or objects such as books and a color palette that he finds appealing. His photographs often evoke a cultural entity and depict wealth based on privilege and learning. He is drawn to spaces that have grandeur as well as spaces that have been eroded due to the ravishes of time and use.
For Michael Eastman, rooms or spaces need to have a patina produced by time and use. Spaces must be ‘lived in” and convey a feeling that someone has just left of is about to enter a room. He is always interested in the human dimension of a room – without an actual person being present. The economic splendor that is projected within a space holds little interest for Eastman – it is the breadth of human experience that is key. He is careful to leave spaces exactly as he sees them and his fascination is with the textures, colors and degradation of a building that happens over time.
John Dugdale is a 20th century photographer smitten with the 19th century. He finds comfort in imagined ancestral connections. His is a world seemingly inhabited by spirits. The photographs are hand made and rely on older techniques, such as albumen, cyanotype and platinum printing. These are organic processes that give each print a unique quality. His pictures have a cool reserve and often include friends or family members. There is little in them to suggest a postmodern world or concern – and Dugdale is drawn to basic, essential values and organic objects. His photographs, whether portraits, landscapes or still lives are designed to be authentic experiences and most have been created in one of his two antique homes.
Sandy Skoglund, Karen Knorr, and Bernard Faucon create rooms and spaces that suggest narratives, and give a visual substance to ideas they have, memories they wish to share, and objects, animals and people they desire to bring together. They create fictions that are based on ideas the artists’ choose to explore. Bernard Faucon creates rooms as equivalent visual poems. A room can be lined in gold, bathed in milk, or covered in snow or sawdust. His subject is often the fleeting memories and joys of childhood – and the inescapable passage of time. His pictures were all made in the South of France with their special interest in nature, light, landscape and the memories specific to his youth. In his photographs, Faucon recreates imagined narratives for the viewer in which we are suspended in a very unique time and space.
Karen Knorr builds a world of impossibilities. She explores grand spaces that are full of architectural richness, verdant light, and are steeped in history. Within these spaces she introduces animals that resist domestication. They are shot separately by her in game parks or are taxidermies. The animals inhabitants these spaces – but become entrapped by them. The rooms cannot logically house and nurture the wildness in these beautiful specimens. Just as beautiful cultural structures are steeped in regulated codified social behavior – our individual freedoms are often sacrificed when we inhabit them. The animals become anthropomorphic. For Knorr a room is a metaphor for a kind of socialized control that gives us the comfort of being part of a specific group or culture but also takes away our independence and individuality.
Sandy Skoglund painstakingly constructs rooms to contain objects and people that investigate the signifiers of how we live, think, and what we value. She often populates rooms with inanimate objects such as popcorn, Cheetos, tables, chairs, leaves, turf, and sculpts models of foxes, snakes, goldfish, dogs, cats, as well as humans. The pictures are built as life size dioramas that question, on a psychological level, our fears and fascination to things.
Her pictures are full of visual non-sequiturs in which there seem to be an infinite repetition of objects, or animals that fill a space. It is always a mystery as to why they are in these spaces in the first place. Added to the repetition of forms and shapes, Skoglund often unifies the color of many of the elements to the larger environment giving a surreal aspect to this puzzling interaction between people and the objects that populate the rooms.
Rooms, in the largest sense, become visual constructs where these photographers have realized their dreams, desires, fears and observations. If as Shakespeare quotes, “All the world is a stage,” and “All the men and women merely players” the rooms become the theater in which the dramas unfold. They hold the mysteries and beauty that we see first with our eyes and then, over time, they create deeper connections into our larger psyches.