Pasatiempo - - PASA REVIEWS - Michael Abatemarco

On any given day the world re­veals it­self / a se­ries of hu­man de­ci­sions / sud­denly seen or made / in fo­cus or not. — from “A Cer­tain Slant” by Mau­reen N. McLane

With their sharp fo­cus and min­i­mal­ist com­po­si­tion, Bill Ja­cob­son’s re­cent pho­to­graphs might seem like an about-face from the in­dis­tinct, out-of-fo­cus im­ages on which he es­tab­lished his ca­reer. In some ways, his newer work does rep­re­sent a de­par­ture, but there are cor­re­spon­dences. In Lines in My Eyes, a se­ries of sharply de­fined im­ages of lin­ear forms and planes in di­a­logue with one an­other, many of the pho­to­graphs are of ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails or of placed ob­jects within in­te­rior and ex­te­rior set­tings. In Lines in My Eyes #194, for in­stance, the top half of a door­way re­veals a room be­yond it. In­side the room, one can glimpse a cor­ner of a white rec­tan­gu­lar shape, most of it out of the line of sight. An in­ter­play be­tween the seen and un­seen is sug­gested. In older bod­ies of work, such as his New Year’s Day se­ries from 2002, where the de­tails of land­scapes, cityscapes, and fig­u­ra­tive por­traits are ob­scured, a sim­i­lar ex­change be­tween the vis­i­ble and the barely dis­cerned also ex­ists. “My ear­lier work had a lot to do with re­mem­brance, with per­cep­tion, with how the brain takes in im­ages and lets go of im­ages over time,” Ja­cob­son told

Pasatiempo. “Es­sen­tially, there were no right an­gles in that work, be­cause when you soften an im­age to the de­gree that I did, it ba­si­cally rounds ev­ery­thing out. That in­dis­tinc­tion was, for me, a par­al­lel with how the mind re­mem­bers in­for­ma­tion, of­ten in such dis­tinct ways — but more of­ten in such im­pres­sion­is­tic ways.”

Pho­to­graphs from two bod­ies of Ja­cob­son’s works are on ex­hibit start­ing Fri­day, Nov. 27, at James Kelly Con­tem­po­rary. The show, called Lines in My Eyes, con­tains im­ages from that se­ries as well as from a more re­cent project, Place (Se­ries). There is some over­lap. Both are con­cerned with ge­om­e­try and with the place­ment of ob­jects, typ­i­cally rec­tan­gles, within an en­vi­ron­ment, nat­u­ral or con­structed. Ja­cob­son had a cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence in 2005 that led to an in­ter­est in ex­plor­ing the more de­fined work that even­tu­ally re­sulted in th­ese two se­ries. Af­ter a move from the East Vil­lage to Brook­lyn, he picked up and han­dled ev­ery ob­ject he had amassed over the years of liv­ing in his Man­hat­tan loft. “It really started me think­ing about the phys­i­cal­ity of space and the phys­i­cal­ity of ob­jects,” he said. “Space and ob­jects are also things we per­ceive con­stantly. They’re also traces of how peo­ple go through the world, much in the same way that the outof-fo­cus work also rep­re­sented a trace of life. I started think­ing about the rec­tan­gle as an archetype, be­cause it’s ba­si­cally the ba­sis for the con­structed world.”

In Lines in My Eyes #193, a door at the right of the pic­ture in­vites eye move­ment from left to right and a cu­rios­ity about what lies be­yond that door. A light is com­ing through from the un­seen room, re­flect­ing off a cor­ner wall to the left, an in­can­des­cent coun­ter­part to the so­lid­ity of the door op­po­site it. The im­age de­scribes a de­fined in­te­rior space and is bi­sected by a ver­ti­cal line near the mid­dle of the com­po­si­tion. It’s the junc­tion where two walls meet, di­vid­ing the im­age into sep­a­rate planes. Ja­cob­son ex­plained, “An­other body of work that also speaks to this is one called A Se­ries of

Hu­man De­ci­sions. That was the first se­ries where I had to es­sen­tially learn how to make an in-fo­cus pic­ture, hav­ing not done it from about 1989 to 2005, ex­cept for some com­mer­cial work. I really had to start think­ing about what it meant to see the world in fo­cus af­ter a long hia­tus. The thing I came away with study­ing those pic­tures was this line of di­vi­sion that sep­a­rates planes in space, that sep­a­rates ob­jects from back­ground, or de­fines ar­chi­tec­ture or ob­jects.”

Ja­cob­son’s Place (Se­ries) is also the sub­ject of a new mono­graph pub­lished by Ra­dius Books. The book was de­vised with a sim­ple, min­i­mal de­sign that re­flects the im­ages within it. “The premise of the book is that we’re al­ways plac­ing. It’s really the way we make and build the world around us, whether it’s plac­ing fur­ni­ture or an ar­chi­tect plac­ing a win­dow in a cer­tain po­si­tion within a build­ing façade, or where we place a book on a ta­ble. We’re con­stantly plac­ing things, and that’s es­sen­tially how the world gets made.”

There are no ex­pos­i­tory es­says, in­tro­duc­tions, or fore­words in the book. But there is a poem by Mau­reen N. McLane writ­ten in re­sponse to Ja­cob­son’s work. “Mau­reen is a poet I’ve been friends with for a very long time,” he said. “She knows my work and my process fairly in­ti­mately, and she wanted to do a piece for the book that was really a re­flec­tion on this body of work, suggest­ing its in­ter­ac­tion with ear­lier pho­to­graphs. It’s how she sees it from her own van­tage point.”

For the Place (Se­ries) pho­tos, Ja­cob­son staged sim­ple in­ter­ven­tions in nat­u­ral and ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments. By plac­ing large white rec­tan­gles in var­i­ous out­door sites, he in­tro­duces an ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ment at odds with its sur­round­ings. “Any build­ing is really a se­ries of rec­tan­gles in what had once been a nat­u­ral, un­built en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “We’re al­ways wit­ness­ing that odd con­tra­dic­tion be­tween the asym­me­try of na­ture and the sym­me­try and ge­om­e­try of the con­structed world, whether it’s a tree in the mid­dle of a lighted ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment or a house that sits out in the most beau­ti­ful wooded en­vi­ron­ment. There’s al­ways that con­tra­dic­tion and that odd join be­tween two dif­fer­ent for­mal con­cerns.”

Ja­cob­son some­times stacks and ar­ranges rec­tan­gu­lar cutouts as though they were the re­duc­tive forms of a still life. “I feel like I am a still-life pho­tog­ra­pher, even when or­ga­niz­ing shapes in the color land­scapes or the way I would po­si­tion the body in my In­terim Por­traits,” he said. The

In­terim Por­traits, made be­tween 2002 and 2003, are in­tended not as por­traits of in­di­vid­ual peo­ple or per­son­al­i­ties but as bod­ies, phys­i­cal ob­jects within a frame. “If I come from any tra­di­tion in pho­tog­ra­phy, the one I align most closely with is still life.”

But the rec­tan­gle is a solid plane that, once placed, ob­scures what lies im­me­di­ately be­hind it. This is used to in­trigu­ing ef­fect in Ja­cob­son’s pho­tog­ra­phy. In Place (Se­ries) #840, for ex­am­ple, a per­son holds one such rec­tan­gu­lar board in front of his or her body, stand­ing on a city street. The back­ground is out of fo­cus, but the rec­tan­gle is not. The rec­tan­gle, the most dis­tinct fea­ture of the im­age, is also its most direct and un­com­pli­cated. The fig­ure hold­ing the rec­tan­gle is mostly ob­scured; only a pair of legs peek­ing out from be­neath its bot­tom edge is vis­i­ble. “That’s one of the real over­laps with the ear­lier work. The rec­tan­gle also tends to hide or ob­scure in­for­ma­tion. One of the things I’ve tried to do over the years is to present an im­age where there’s an ab­sence as well as a pres­ence. It forces the viewer to make the link be­tween the two.”


▼ Bill Ja­cob­son: Lines in My Eyes ▼ Re­cep­tion 5 p.m. Fri­day, Nov. 27; ex­hibit through Jan. 9, 2016 ▼ James Kelly Con­tem­po­rary, 1611 Paseo de Per­alta, 505-989-1601

Lines in My Eyes #317, 2013, pig­ment print

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