Shotgun Review

Silver Curtain

By Patricia Maloney September 23, 2012

Thumbnail: Larry Sultan. Business Page, 1985, printed 2012; chromogenic print; edition of six; 38 x 47.3 in. Courtesy of Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco.

Silver Curtain takes its title from the 1997 Larry Sultan chromogenic print of the same name, which is featured prominently in this exhibition organized by Julie Casemore. The curtain in question shimmers from reflected light, but it also drapes with such weight as to appear poured from molten lead. The center panel parts the curtain slightly, revealing a dun-colored wall behind it. The image is heavy with concealment.

So too is this thoughtful exhibition, which reads as a visual essay on photography’s capacity to conjure absence by emphasizing the friction between what becomes illuminated and what remains obscured. Casemore’s selections foreground luminosity, texture, and framing. Edges predominate in many compositions, drawing strict lines between here and there or, alternately, demarcating thresholds between envelopment and exclusion.

For example, Jack Pierson’s large-scale folded pigment print (Late Afternoon, Herring Cove) (2010) cuts the image horizontally; at its top sunlight skirts across gauzy water, pulling up short at its edge where it meets a dark, rocky beach. Rather than meld them together, the contrast of texture between wave and shore seems to forever cleave the two from each other. A similar cleft exists in Sultan’s domestic scene, Business Page (1985), hung on the same wall. The light source emanating from behind the titular newspaper section cuts it in half vertically, casting darkness on one section. The paper itself conceals Sultan’s father, who is reading it, from our view. One of his hands is visible, the other is silhouetted, and there is no shadow of his head or body. He is not only hidden; he has disappeared behind the thin, glowing front page.

The photographs in Silver Curtain are full of such mediating planes—windows, curtains, and screens—that reveal as much as they obscure. A viewer can peer through the sheer-covered window to the street in Jim Goldberg’s Ternopil, Ukraine (2007), but the room the photo is taken from is a mystery. In

Jack-Pierson-Late-Afternoon-Herring-Cove

Jack Pierson. (Late Afternoon, Herring Cove), 2010; folded pigment print; edition of three; 83 x 62 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco.

Northfield, Minnesota (2001), by Alec Soth, the opposite is true: only a sliver of light makes its way around the edges of the blinds hung from the bay windows of a faded and empty room. In both photographs, “within” or “without” remain relative and inaccessible states despite what has been documented. The frames—much like photography itself as medium—are a futile effort to rein in the fleetingness of light. They are material and metaphoric bulwarks in our efforts to contain what so readily slips away. Their recurring presence throughout Silver Curtain poignantly underscores the belief that while a photograph fixes a moment in time, it can also unravel a sense of human presence or physical space.

 

Silver Curtain is on view at Stephen Wirtz Gallery, in San Francisco, through September 29, 2012.

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