JTF (just the facts): Published in 2012 by Primary Information (here) and distributed by DAP (here). Paperback, 240 pages, with 112 color images. Arranged by Stuart Bailey and includes an essay by Angie Keefer. (Spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Elad Lassry’s On Onions is the kind of clever photobook that I wish the artist had made earlier in his career, as it would have helped me to find a more obvious entry point into his work. In the past few years, Lassry has become something of a rising star, with the requisite museum group shows, gallery solos, curator favor, and buzz in the press. His color saturated commercial-style still lifes with their matching frames have become an instantly recognizable signature look. And yet, at least for me, Lassry’s photographs have heretofore been a bit of a head scratching mystery – original to be sure, but their seductiveness more often outweighed in my mind by lack of context and a mystifying randomness. I had a hard time trying to decipher their obtuse puzzle, or perhaps there was no puzzle at all and the images were purposefully campy and vapid.
What I like very much about this well designed book is that there is an underlying conceptual framework that holds these particular photographs together. The book balances two sets of imagery (onions and eyes), moving back and forth between the two groups in mixed bunches. Lassry’s deadpan still life onions cover the entire taxonomy of types and colors (white, yellow, brown, red, green, pearl, and sweet) as well as depciting a selection of presentation and knife skills (chopped, sliced, sectioned, halved, peeled, grouped, and bunched). These forms are matched with variations on objectified eyes – contact lenses, arrays of colored lenses, sections of an eye, prosthetic eyes, and multiple black background retina scans that look alarmingly like veined onions or moons.
The parade of right-hand side images is tied together by a wandering meditative essay on tears that is interleaved among the pictures. It’s an eclectic, brainy study, from a story about dysfunctional tear ducts and lacrimal glands to an examination of the different chemical properties of emotional and reflex tears. Along the way, we follow the path of the magical tear that changes a stuffed animal into a real rabbit in The Velveteen Rabbit and track the career of Hollywood director Douglas Sirk and his melodramas of hopeless situations and happy endings. The result is a smart sense of rhythm and wry purpose that was completely absent from my previous encounters with Lassry’s work. It’s not exactly an underlying narrative, but it’s certainly a defining structure that provides logic and meaning to the sequence of pictures. In the end, it’s still a quirky, open-ended project, but for the first time, there is a trail of bread crumbs to follow.
Collector’s POV: Elad Lassry is represented by David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles (here). He was included in MoMA’s New Photography exhibit in 2010 (review here), had a show at Luhring Augustine in New York later that year, and recently had one of his images displayed on the High Line billboard.