JTF (just the facts): A total of 23 black and white photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the side alcove and the back viewing room. All of the works are modern gelatin silver prints, made between 1981 and 2010. The prints are sized either 16×20 or 20×24 and are available in editions of 9. A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Contrasto (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Rarely has a long term family portrait been as brutally conflicted as Marc Asnin’s unflinching documentation of the life of his Uncle Charlie. In shadowy black and white photographs spanning more than thirty years, Asnin cuts to the raw bone of Charlie’s existence, exposing a dark, downward spiral of poverty, violence, depression, loss, and isolation. But even as the crushing weight of bad choices, delusions, and madness piles up, Asnin’s tenderness and affection for Charlie never falters. As sideline viewers, we continue to somehow root for Charlie’s success, even when it is altogether clear that the deluge of personal tragedies is going to win.
With the benefit of the context of the entire project, Asnin’s early pictures from the 1980s feel pregnant with clues to the impending disasters to come. Charlie humps his wife in the kitchen with a crazed look in his eye, and lies like a corpse in his convertible bed in the living room. Images of his five young children hint at disquiet and unrest: a lonely look through a scratched glass door, a triangle of boys with resigned stares, and a daughter flash lit and haunted. The penetrating photograph of Charlie sitting naked in the dark, holding a gun and smoking a cigarette, looking out the bright window is surely evidence that his struggles were already starting to overwhelm him.
By the 1990s, the cycle of destruction engulfing Charlie had clearly intensified. His kids begin to rebel with more harshness and venom; Brian gives his dad the finger while Jamie talks trash on the front stoop. Family celebrations like birthdays and baptisms are hollowed out pantomimes, and his new young girlfriend openly smokes crack in the living room. Charlie is now mostly seen resting, lost in a decline of frail depression. The death of his son to AIDS in 1996 seems to have been the last straw; his face hardens into a deranged mask, and he sits curled up in a chair, the picture of utter despondency.
The most recent images in the series plumb the depths of sadness and despair in ever more punishing ways. Charlie scrawls sorrowful messages in chalk on his walls, trudges by his son’s grave site in the snow, and sits alone in his empty apartment on moving day. A close up picture of his now older and weathered face is heartbreaking, a diary of best intentions, broken dreams, and dreary outcomes.
Even as his life crashes down around him, Charlie remains surprisingly sympathetic as a subject. While many of his injuries may have been self inflicted and the larger cycle of life had him trapped, we’re still left hoping for an unlikely, snatched from the jaws of defeat happy ending which doesn’t of course come. All in, Asnin’s family portrait is undeniably woeful and distressing, but it’s cracklingly and memorably alive with the genuine emotions of his one of a kind uncle.
Collector’s POV: The prints in the show are priced based on size; the 16×20 prints are $1800 and the 20×24 prints are $2500. Asnin’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail is likely the best option for those collectors interested in following up.