Chris Lowell – Untitled from N. America series (20XX)
If you have any investment in entertainment that passes the Bechdel test then you likely know who Chris Lowell is already. Remember Veronica Mars? Remember how amazing the first season was? Even the second season–despite its flaws–was a cut above most serial dramas. Then came the inexcusably awful third season.
Well, Lowell–who played Veronica’s college boyfriend Piz–was among a clot of reasons the show suddenly started sucking shit through a tube.
All this is relevant only insofar as it suggested a way of responding to a raft of questions I have about his images.
On a certain level, I want to like his work. His compositions are logical, exploiting the inherent dynamism of strictly observing the rule of thirds. I see some of my own compositional tendencies mirrored back at me.
What sets me off is the framing of the work as ‘fine art photography’. Yes, it’s a term that I am ambivalent about at best but its inclusion here catalyzes my various impressions into something unflattering.
In the absence of titles and any sort of framing statement, there is only the skeletal suggestion of the respective continent on which the images were made. This seems to imply the images are clear and self-contained enough to carry their own weight.
They are all pretty; some even alluring even but they do not stand on their own as-is.
Consider the above image: the strobe blown foreground contrasting with the carbon black night is compelling. And I get that the image maker is riffing on Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void.
Beyond that nothing is clear: the void in the latter has been transformed from a French street into a literal void.
Is this–as Leap into the Void was–preoccupied with questions of photomontage? (If so, the stakes are lower here; it’s child’s play to composite a figure over a single, seamless solid color.)
Is the figure going to land on a trampoline or a pool? What’s with the screened in tree house/porch?
Whatever fine art photography entails–and really who the fucking hell even knows what that is–a fine art photographic image MUST demonstrate an unambiguous bearing toward its audience. (And that bearing may be ambiguity.)
In most cases the photographer get’s their ass out of the goddamn way. Yes, the Cartier-Bresson’s style is as singular as a fingerprint. Ultimately though, he’s less concerned the polemics of his own style as he is in seeing the world as a stage waiting to be wondrously set through the lens of his camera.
Stephen Shore takes things a step further by de-emphasizing any stage setting in favor of images that seem like in a accidental and miraculous moment the world offered you (the viewer) and you alone a magical glimpse of its underlying symmetry/meaning and purpose. Alternately, Eggleston gives zero fucks about his audience. He was a terrorist who wanted to profane gallery walls with an extravagantly unrestrained profusion of colors that served no other purpose than to slavish ornament mundane existence.
Meanwhile, the relationship of Lowell’s work seams to at best position him–as it were–beside the viewer. He watches them watching, hoping against hope that they’ll tell him they like it. Waiting for the proper moment to interrupt them and inquire: what do you think? Is it okay? Do you get it?
I don’t mean abandon such harsh criticism at Lowell’s doorstep like flaming bag filled with dog shit. I point this criticism in my own direction. I think what original drove me to pick up a camera was the belief that since I was terminally unrequited and undesirable that maybe it might be possible for people to love me through my work.
Such isn’t at all a bad initial impetus–but as long as the artist’s drive is governed by it–’art’ if it happens will be more a happy accident than a summation of any progress or growth.