Exploring divergent concepts and bodies of work in exchange over the course of a show currently on view at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, photographers Sophie Calle, Bruce Conner and Paul Pfeiffer have gathered together under the title “Documents & Recitations.” The show, which features a range of different images and works from each artist’s oeuvre, explores the format of the series to construct new narratives, and engage notions of individual memory and collective perception as translated through the medium of photography.
While not working exclusively in the realm of photography, the captured image no doubt features heavily in Sophie Calle’s body of work. Using the camera as a way to set up points in time, documenting moments of calm and self-examination, the artist’s work delves into the camera frame as a site to confront her own interior landscapes. Created in 2000, the work on view here, Exquisite Pain, chronicles a trip Calle took to Asia that indirectly lead to the end of a close relationship. Her images here document both moments of discovery and deep thinking, with each photograph or document stamped with a number indicating the remaining amount of “days until unhappiness.” The sense of reframing time and experience, twisting momentary impulses to snap the camera into a concretized narrative underscores her abilities as both a conceptualist and compelling documentarian.
By contrast, Bruce Conner’s PUNK PHOTOS document raw energy and ferocity in the San Francisco punk club Mabuhay Gardens. Capturing the itching, restless energy of the city’s emerging punk music scene and underground concerts, the artist transposes moments of explosive energy into lyrical moments that seem to hang in time forever. Much in the same way that Calle’s work suspends time and reworks narrative arcs, Conner’s seem to invert the immanence of punk and its livewire happenings.
The third artist, Paul Pfeiffer, recasts the visual language of popular spectacle to reexamine its psychological, cultural and socioeconomic implications. In 24 Landscapes, 2000, the artist presents a collection of idyllic beach scenes—mute, uninhabited images taken from well-known stills by George Barris depicting Marilyn Monroe weeks before her death in 1962. Through digital imaging Pfeiffer has meticulously retouched the photographs to eliminate the iconic star, leaving only the picturesque shorelines. Devoid of their intended subject, the work prompts the viewer to reflect on the phenomenon of celebrity, the artifice of cultural narratives, and the power of mass media.
Compiled together, this selection of works interrogates the image as a site not only of documentation, but equally of revision, of the reposing and reframing of visual information. The camera may not be able to tell a lie about its images, but the artist operating seems all the more empowered to twist the truth in turn.
The show closes February 8th, 2020.
— D. Creahan
Paula Cooper Gallery [Exhibition Site]