Photography’s Impossible Attempt to Freeze Time
SAN FRANCISCO — To feel the passage of time, you have to freeze it in place. This is the subtle paradox at the heart of Considered interactions, a group exhibition of black and white photography at Casemore Kirkeby in San Francisco. The five included artists employ a range of tactics to activate space and time within the static image to interrogate the medium’s ability to collapse into a singular, suspended moment.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is John Divola’s “ENSO: 36 Right-handed Gestures” (2018), a grid of 36 gelatin prints of images made in the abandoned housing estate of a US Army base. air in Southern California. Divola modified the deteriorated space by painting circles on the walls around specific details in each frame (stains, bullet holes, water damage). By highlighting elements of the ruin, Divola notably reveals how the photographs preserve.
Steve Kahn, who has also shot in dilapidated interiors – notably an apartment complex in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s – took a different approach to the subject of camera trapping, staging spaces that often seem unavoidable. “Running” (1976/2016) is a triptych cinematic pigment print, in which a character is seen rushing towards a doorway, seemingly advancing in every frame. Clever cropping gives the piece its heightened sense of movement, the front end of the figure cut off by the edges in two images, then by the doorway in the third. It becomes difficult not to see each frame as a door in itself to enter or exit, each image a moment of time held hostage.
The artist duo Raymond Meeks and Adrianna Ault didactically experiment with the power of the medium to seize time. In the series of seven prints Farm Winter Auction (2019), the two commemorate the titular event by photographing agricultural implements thrown into the air. The images capture the essence of letting go: the underlying uncertainty and fear of what is to come.
Tarah Douglas’ series of pigment prints, Untitled (#1-15) (2020), alternates frames between two figures – one traversing a hilly landscape in search of something, the other kneeling on a beach, performing what looks like a series of rituals with various objects, such as flowers , a book and a pair of binoculars pointed at the viewer. Here Douglas reveals how photography is also a ritual of research, a record of research and of something, a collection of moments made with a wide network.
There is something anxious in the photographs. Whatever the particular visual subject of a photo, its implicit subject is always the passage of time itself; the presence of a photo suggests the fear of its absence, the artist’s fear that time is passing. The works in Considered interactions underscore this tension, with each artist choosing visual subjects that elucidate the transience the photographs defy. The idea that we can steal a moment of time always seems a little transgressive to me. But that’s one of the great pleasures I get from looking at photos—watching someone attempt the impossible.
Considered interactions is on view at the Casemore Kirkeby Gallery (1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco, CA) through May 28. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.