Primal Sight

February 6, 2020

“There’s no earthly way of knowing. Which direction we are going. There’s no knowing where we’re rowing. Or which way the river’s flowing. Is it raining? Is it snowing? Is a hurricane a-blowing? Not a speck of light is showing. So the danger must be growing. Oh, the fires of hell are glowing. Is the grisly reaper mowing? YES! The danger must be growing! For the rowers keep on rowing! AND THEY’RE CERTAINLY NOT SHOWING! ANY SIGNS THAT THEY ARE SLOWING!

Stop the boat.”
—From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971

——

Primal Sight

Efrem Zelony-Mindell

Out of the mysteries of the world figures and objects take form; they shine in darkness. A howling racket carves through the shifting of sight and imagery. The world of color is removed from curiosity because it is entrapped in literality. Grays, black and white, silvers—brilliant and pointed— are identified in every language and culture before color is procured. New shapes unfold with the unusual terror of unfamiliar images. Ardent blacks and whites growl into surface and texture. Perceived light can mean so many different things. All things are allowed the grace of the divergent. Broad outlines invent the necessity for composition; framing of a scene exists even if only for a moment. Life can continue without the cast of photography but it will always be new and it is through contemporary eyes that changes and conversations become us.

Live in the world without rules. So seldom are there plans. Panic is unencumbered when everything is in accord. Anarchy introduces new depths of thought and plausible impossibility. That is what photography has always provided: to upset established order. What gets changed? The things that are exhausted. Black and white are the dark and the bleached of photography. The practice of fixers and chemistry poured on silvers and gelatins to reproduce are now regarded as antique. But are they?

We still need fairytales.

Suggestions thrive; pictorial lines procure the body in the frames of photography that is in black-and-white. There is something monstrous here. There are reminders of the past. Archenemies emerge. These artists, with their eyes, feed machines and papers new compositions that would have never been understood previously. A photograph is an aberration. Some of us are compelled. Everything changes completely in the landscape of this imagery. Maybe we’re still just children. Is there something abstract? Or are they merely abject?

Alone, things that hadn’t been thought of feed desire. Inventions are mediated. Formal play of removal heightens the space of sympathy in these images; their language is in distance and the invisible between objects. That margin hangs inside each photo, like a tempered gray mass. There is something truly barbaric amongst them—they are nearly crime scenes—but they are engorged by vulnerability. A figure of something to mask, pieces and personal reflections bond together like glue on such a puzzled perimeter. Lose track of the reality of an image. As viewers we are flanked victims of such an intoxicating metamorphosis. These photographs are from a space where the familiar crosses into strange.

Passengers are trapped in the inertia of recognition. Blacks formed in the darkness, like fingers, course the veins and features of these photographs. Their light is bright and surge the whites of the pictures. Haunting the forest of these images a transformed surface moves in and then out of flatness, teasing surprising relationships. Behold—a theater of construction and disorientation to navigate disbeliefs. Ghosted impressions highlight the passions of absurdity. Why are these things here? Maybe to unfasten description, or perhaps to highlight the forgotten specifics of things.

Black-and-white is pristine because everything else is in color. Mood and subject are heightened by the hue and the desaturated in these images. They rely on the strength and weakness of light inside them. In the night, during the day, dawn and dusk are consumed in the atmosphere of these photographs. They are primal in sight. Nothing that color provides can give more than what the broad vocabulary of everyday objects can: bark, the sky, grass, and the sea. What we see is inescapably wrapped up in how things are described and certain secrets reveal an endured history. We each articulate our own paths. Empty shell, running naked, contorted by thickness and contrast.

But regardless of differences there is something universal in how humans try to make sense of the world. We become comfortable or unsure and these images become something else. There is a feral looker sinking into the eyes of such frames. They ignite. They are unimaginably photogenic. These images are not looked at; they brood at you. Voices cracked, towering rock, the life and death of people and places come together. Great lakes of whites and grays liven the flesh of everything here.

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