JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the entry area, the main gallery space in the back, and the two smaller side rooms. All of the woks are digital-prints, made in 2012 and 2013. Physical sizes range from 39×48 to 72×90 (or reverse), in editions of 3+1AP or 2+1AP. A monograph of this body of work was published in 2013 by TF Editores (here). (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Jackie Nickerson’s newest series of portraits of farm workers and associated agricultural landscapes from Africa is an exercise in deliberate, purposeful ambiguity. All of her images are interrupted, faces and natural forms obscured and concealed, the personal and the specific made abstract and sculptural by a conscious method of separation.
Photographs of workers and laborers are nothing new in the history of photography, and Sander, Hine, and Penn have all memorably celebrated the details of countless professions, making portraits that capture both the tools of the trade, the quirks of its place, and the noble spirit of its effort. Nickerson’s pictures fall into this tradition, and are at the same time, a kind of contrarian reaction to that visual past. Her farm workers also carry their implements and tools, from molded plastic crates and tubs to sheets and tarps and folded sacks, but her photographs use these props to erase the personalities of the pickers and harvesters. We are left with larger than life solitary bodies looming before us like totems, standing in the fields or the processing plants, blocked by a tangle of rubber irrigation tubing or a heaping armload of tobacco leaves. We are frustrated in our attempt to connect and to see, the dusty workers transformed into formal exercises executed in a tangle of thin wire or the jagged lines of massive fronds; in some cases, they look almost like fashion stills or anthropological costumes, with angles of tarp and palettes of dried leaves becoming a kind of unlikely agricultural couture.
The few landscapes in the show follow a similar logic, a blue scrim of netting obscuring the view to a stand of greenery and plastic greenhouse sheeting creating a veil between the viewer and the plants being propagated inside. A clouded plastic greenhouse door becomes a kind of geometric design, its rectangles both preventing and enabling us to enter, the plants pressing up against its walls. Freedom has been replaced by a tenuous, structured system.
Seen together, Nickerson’s photographs don’t offer the easy conclusions of a one sided argument. Are these harvesters and cutters nobly pursuing important life-enabling work, or are they dehumanized pack animals, weighed down and overcome by their repetitive back breaking tasks? That question, and adjacent ones about our evolving connections to food and the land from which it comes, are left smartly open ended, shifting back and forth.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show range in price from $10000 to $25000, based on size. Nickerson’s work has only recently begun to enter the secondary markets, and too few lots have changed hands to discern much of a pricing history. As such, gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.