Nicholas NixonY.A., J.S., Vevey, Switzerland (2000)

Viewing Nixon’s work I am reminded of Emmet Gowin. Both share an interest in portraiture and more-or-less abstracted landscapes.

I prefer Nixon’s trajectory more–as he’s pursued both tracks over the course of his career; whereas Gowin has all but stopped making portraits.

However, even though Nixon has made more consistently engaging work–it’s never quite managed to invoke the same intense and simple clarity as Gowin’s pre-aerial photography work.

The above frame is actually emblematic of what frustrates me about Nixon. He’s using a large format camera. Awesome. I totally support that and if I could afford to, I’d only shoot large format (although I prefer 4×5 over 8×10 because beyond a point, dragging large, heavy equipment around is a turn off). And I really like the way it toes the line with regard to a degree of gender ambiguity. (It took me almost 30 seconds to note the protruding scrotum of the little spoon.)

I just don’t think that ambiguity actually balances out against the lack of broader contextual clues as far as the setting. Nixon uses standardized naming conventions when titling his work. A brief description of what is pictures, where the photo was taken and the year it was produced. With much of the rest of his work it doesn’t bother me. (The tact is–after all–endemic in fine art photography.)

Here though, it reads like an effort to activate the work in a way that the purely visual does not.

Yet, then there’s the broader context of the work within which this photograph coexists–a project documenting amorous couples. This resonates strongly with the ambiguity of gender in the presentation. And while I don’t think it has the immediacy or empathy of other images in the same series it is nice to see effort made to represent the act of love as non-hetero exclusive.

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