Art Review Archives:
Daily Life: Photographs by
The Chicago Cultural Center
These are odd and yet aptly fitted occurrences; accidents of placement in which truth is stranger than fiction; glimpses of unexpected proximity that infuse significance or humor into the scene. Many of us see them. Christopher Rauschenberg collects them. With camera at the ready, and yet, as Rauschenberg has noted, "when I wasn't wearing my photographer's hat", the thirty-six color photos of Daily Life: Photographs by Christopher Rauschenberg are a gallery of life's momentary absurdities. They lend themselves as well to observations on just what types of juxtaposition attract the photographer's notice.
Objects are, after all, side by side in our field of vision all the time, most often in a common-sense and unremarkable way. What catches Rauschenberg's eye most often is a quirky or absurd relationship that adds unexpected context, whether based on disparity of scale, ironic combination, or that moment in which parallax placement aligns two objects in view with unexpected results. Chance and fortuity have a great deal to do with it, capturing transitory events and effects that might go almost unnoticed or only briefly remarked upon, save for the camera's ability to freeze an instant in time for our examination. In Washington DC (2006) (north wall, toward the left; the photographs are named by series, not individually), the entrance of a museum visitor to one side infuses life into the sculpted angel's leftward twist, lending the angel a sudden, animate interest in the visitor's own perusal of hanging artworks. The presence of a shopper in New York (2005) (east wall, toward the right), bent to arrange her parcels, gives the look of a benediction to the raised hand of the shop-window mannequin before her. Such absurd associations create a sense of eccentric narrative, of inanimate objects imbued with a secret life of their own.
Humorous transactions in scale are uppermost in Houston (2006) (north wall, toward the right), in which the monolithic standing stone in the framed print finds its humble echo in a cat-scratching post, straining for pride of place just beneath, or in Portland (2005), where the child's red sock contrasts and parallels the monumental image of the "one giant step for mankind" of the moonwalk footprint in a book of photographs open on the bed. At other times the intersection of 'low' and 'high' culture reveal the cheek-by-jowl collision of cultural aspirations and middle-class reality: the silver chafing tray bearing a selection of TV remote controls in Portland (2005) (east wall, toward the left), and likewise in another from the Portland series (west central divider, toward the right) the sleek elegance of the silver service just washed -- with blue rubber turtle scrubby tucked in alongside.
Montreal (2005) is an image of broken illusion, the careful trompe l'oleil of library shelves on the painted canvas completely denied by the highly reflective strips of packing tape securing it. Accidents of light cast the reading bas-relief nude of New York (2006) (east wall, toward the left) half into a shadow that obscures her book. And at times, the tensions in the work accompany a strange beauty, as in the book precariously balanced on tub's-edge in San Francisco (west central divider, toward center), which in addition to its sensation of peril forms a graceful study of whites and off-whites. The presence of formal beauty is no surprise: Rauschenberg has photographed throughout the world and has co-founded and chaired a number of photography organizations and galleries. Additional photographs from the Daily Life series and other series photographed in Thailand, Brazil, Europe and further worldwide locations are featured on his web site, http://www.christopherrauschenberg.com.
The vernacular subject matter lends a further candidness that enhances these photos as directly lifted from everyday living. What catches the photographer's eye in such cases? Quirky, appealing, odd and transitory instants. Rauschenberg takes pains to catch the fortuitious moment, which for most of us is seen and gone. Thirty-six color photographs are on exhibit through October 7, 2007.
Running concurrently at the Cultural Center is Indira Freitas Johnson: Lifetime Offer, Dimensions Variable, also through October 7, 2007. Read the review here.
--Katherine R. Lieber
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