Charlesworth is an artist at the heart of the Picture Generation > appropriationist interest in mass-media photographic imagery (but in a very different way than Sherrie Levine > with Stills, she rips the images, crops them, rephotographs them in a way that the artist’s re-working of and engagement with the images is obvious – even subject of the work).
- Stills, 14 pictures: images blown up from news wire or newspaper clippings, depicting people falling from a life-threatening height. Work from 1980, but looking at it in 2017 make this inevitably resonant with 9/11 > added layer of resonance, personal and public histories intertwined;
- Details extracted, context-less (at least, detached from their original context);
- Enlargement from very small sources > Big scale is a key element in the emotional impact of each image, as it suggests an equivalence between viewer and subject;
- Over-lifesize enlargement from very small source pictures > images big and grainy enough to depersonalize the subjects without dehumanizing them;
- Effect of proximate distance;
- Repetition of the same trauma/accident. We know nothing about the outcome of the falls. Some people and places are identified, others are not. She denies the viewer a narrative that could help him to make sense of the tragedy. One of the pictures is from a stunt, but we do not know that, and it doesn’t really matter;
- The images play in our mind long after we have seen them. Viewers contemplating a never-ending tragedy. These images have haunted me for the past 3 years. Subjects in a state of suspended mobility because of photography > Does photography makes them ghost?;
- Polarities at work: presence/absence, life/death, movement, arrest;
- Ripped edges suggest violent, visceral action;
- Some images tend toward graphic abstraction – strong visual experience;
- Subject and suspended mobility leads to metaphysical questions;
- Poetic dimension, to me, each image is a short poem;
- Isolated, powerful moments, becoming symbolic > Sublime.
This work raise a great engagement from me as a viewer, wanting to connect with the subject, understand something about their identity, their stories. At the same time, I am fascinated by the inevitable question: who take this picture, how improbable it was in a pre-digital age to capture such scenes?
Charlesworth, S. and Witkovsky, M. (2014) Sarah Charlesworth – Stills. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago.
Other notes from Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld:
- p.13 (Hal Foster): “…Charlesworth tended to treat the photograph not only as a serial image, a multiple without a unique print, but also as a simulacral image, a representation without a guaranteed referent in the world. In this way, she regarded the photograph less as a physical trace or indexical imprint of reality than as a coded construction that produces real effects as well as artificial affects, and she dedicated her to an exploration of this rhetoric of the image.”
- p.30 (Sarah Charlesworth): “To live in a world of photographs is to live in a world of substitutes – stand-ins- representation of things, or so it seems, whose referents are always the other, the described, the reality of a world once removed. […] I prefer […] to look at the photograph as something real and of my world – a strange and powerful thing – but not a thing to be viewed in isolation, but as a part of a language, a system of communication, an economy of signs.” > self-reflective interiority.
Charlesworth, S. et al. (2015) Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld. New-York: New Museum.