JTF (just the facts): A total of 75 black and white photographs, custom framed in white wood with no mat, and hung against grey striped walls in the main gallery space. The show also includes 1 video, which is on display in the entry area. The gelatin silver prints are mostly vintage, made between 1973 and 1988, with a few modern prints made in 2006. Paper sizes are either 5×7 or 6×8 (or reverse), with images roughly 2×2 or 2×3 (or reverse). All of the prints come in editions of 6+2AP. The video is a Super 8 film on digital video with sound, running 2 minutes and 28 seconds; it is available in an edition of 10+2AP. Some Aesthetic Decisions: The Photographs of Judy Fiskin, a new catalog raisonne recently published by the Getty (here), is available at the reception desk. (Installation shots at right.)
The following projects are included in the show, with the number of relevant prints on view and their dates as background:
- Stucco: 11 prints, 1973-1976
- 35 Views of San Bernardino: 4 prints, 1974
- Military Architecture: 10 prints, 1975
- Desert: 3 prints, 1976
- Long Beach: 5 prints, 1980
- Dingbat: 12 prints, 1982-1983
- My Trip to New York: 19 prints, 1984-1986
- Jersey Shore: 3 prints, 1986-1988
- New Orleans: 5 prints, 1987
- New Architecture: 3 prints, 1988
Comments/Context: Judy Fiskin’s tiny, couple-of-inches-square black and white prints seem both anachronistic and unexpectedly modern in these days of the humongous and the over sized. From the center of the gallery, her prints from the 1970s and 1980s are completely illegible, minuscule dots circling the room. They require nose-to-the-frame engagement to even decipher their subjects, and when you get up close, their black bordered edges make it feel like you’re looking through the viewfinder along with the artist; it’s as if you’re along for the ride.
This show is a mini-retrospective sampler, gathering prints from a variety of her projects across two decades. At first glance, the bleached out, high contrast deadpan of the photographs might recall the Bechers, Ed Ruscha, or the New Topographics photographers, but even though her visual formula is strict and methodical, the pictures seem more about quirks and outliers than vernacular patterns. I liked the edge of wit in her Southern California flat roofed stucco houses (often with mirrored geometries or palm trees) and her Dingbat apartment blocks, punctuated by quiet oddities of shrubbery and surface decoration. In the 1980s, Fiskin shifted her gaze East, documenting the elaborate roof lines of the Jersey shore and the mixed-up stand alone bungalows and duplexes of New York. She even took time to capture the over-the-top architecture of cemetery tombs in New Orleans. Across the various subjects, she consistently found overlooked details worth noting, small eccentricities that seem to stick out as obvious once she had highlighted them. Her photographs are evidence of conscious looking, of searching for the individuality and personality that had been easily passed by in the apparent monotony of these everyday structures.
The front room contains Fiskin’s 2006 film, The End of Photography, where moving images of this same Southern California architectural aesthetic are cut together and overlaid with a spoken eulogy to the black-and-white, analog world. The voice-over is a repeated cadence of “no more” followed by a catalog of items once found in a darkroom: no more enlarger, no more tray, no more beaker, no more developer, no more radio, etc. ending with “no more photography”. It points to the comfortable details of a now vanished world, and the uncertainty felt as these traditional technologies and processes have been washed away by the new. I have to admit that I had a mixed reaction to this message of this film, as it elicited both a real nostalgia for the old (and the subtleties of what has been lost) and a lack of patience for the underlying bitterness being expressed at being forced to change.
Overall, I think this Fiskin overview is smart and well-constructed, especially in its coverage of many of her early projects. In putting together the historical puzzle of 1970s/1980s American photography, I think her personal take on local vernacular architecture (particularly in California) merits inclusion among the better known names that define the period.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $5000 each. The video is available for $10000. Fiskin’s work has little or no secondary market history, so even though these photographs date back several decades, gallery retail is likely the only option for those collectors interested in following up. Fiskin is also represented by Angles Gallery in Los Angeles (here).