Louis Jacobson’s review of my “Time Markers” exhibition at the District of Columbia Arts Center (City Lights, 2/17) invites readers to imagine which of the events portrayed in the exhibit would “make a good movie.” The rest of the review specifies elements that make each piece interesting or not—the “barbershop camera…trained too closely on a chair that stayed empty,” the “papier-mâché artist [who] takes off his shirt and eats from a tub of yogurt in full view of the camera.”
Jacobson’s most powerful thoughts are those that desire more rigorously choreographed recordings of daily life unfolding. But if not in full view of the camera, where should that papier-mâché artist eat his lunch? If the barbershop chair stays empty, what should be done? Ask someone to pose? Cut that sequence from the project? Edit out all the hours no one is in the chair? The entertainment industry exploits these options. Culinary programs, for example, might show exciting slicing and dicing, but they only refer to simmering or freezing overnight. In the art world, Eadweard Muybridge sometimes constructed his sequences with an aesthetic intent and produced visually pleasing, but less factual, results. Edward S. Curtis dragged around a trunk of feathers and paraphernalia, in case he needed props to make Native Americans look more “Indian” in his photographs. The glossy anesthesia produced when National Geographic turns life into a beautiful picture may leave the reader entertained but less informed. Playboy might be entertaining (to some), but it cannot answer the question, “What do women look like?”
“Time Markers” chooses to go into the real world to photograph people doing what they really do. However, the principal exploration concerns time: how we record it, how we interpret it, how these records and interpretations shape our expectations and desires. The single unbroken pinhole photograph and the fragmented digital stills are most significantly a dialogue about the sources of information we use to measure and evaluate life. Jacobson describes his reactions to the works as “unexpected.” As I work on these pieces, I also find my assumptions and expectations challenged.
Jacobson (in effect) asks readers: Quick: Pick the good one. “Time Markers” asks: Wait: What do I mean by “good”?
Jacobson wrote his review without seeing the exhibition, reacting solely to the animations on the exhibition DVD. He thus could not refer to the digital prints, pinhole lithographs in light boxes, or the scheduled events that were photographed in the gallery while open to the public. It has sparked new conversation and thought on the project, strengthening my belief that “Time Markers” makes a modest but important contribution to the art of seeing.