McNair Evans: Confessions for a Son @Sasha Wolf

JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, sized either 20×25 or 32×40 and available in editions of 5. The show also includes a framed letter. A monograph of this body of work was published by Owl & Tiger Books in 2014 (here). (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: In the past decade, we’ve seen a quiet Renaissance in eclectic photographic storytelling, as innovative explorations into nonlinear, indirect, additive, and archival narrative methods have taken us beyond the boundaries of the simple here-to-there chronological picture progression. This has been particularly true when the work has been presented in photobook form, as the old rules about how images should be sequenced and displayed have been rapidly dissolving in the face of disruptive experimentation.

McNair Evans’ Confessions for a Son is part travelogue, part indirect portrait, part forensic analysis, and part hand-wringing search, a weaving together of found details into a brocade that approximates a deceased father’s life, his secrets, and his son’s effort to understand them. The project retraces his father’s journey from North Carolina to New Jersey and back again, and tries to make sense of the insolvency of the family business that had been hidden during his father’s life. It’s an after-the-fact emotional trip with incomplete information, and Evans handles its inherent ambiguity with photographic subtlety and refinement.

For aficionados of 1970s era American color photography, Evans’ images will feel like welcome friends who have returned after a prolonged absence – these are the kind of well crafted color photographs that we are collectively forgetting how to make. Nearly all of the prints on display here flow with soft, lush color, Evans often taking advantage of the melancholy gentleness of the afternoon to burnish his surfaces with reflected light and bathe his subjects in glowing warmth.

The show begins with an image of an overgrown farm house that Evans has given a gothic air with a low camera angle and the menacing encroachment of golden hued grass. That same orange is then reprised in an image of his father’s cluttered office, the open drawer of sawdusty random junk and mounds of paper checks offering elusive partial clues to the past. The subdued purple of twilight surrounds his father’s shotgun, wrapped in newspaper and tossed in a shallow river, and also decorates the spider webbed windshield of a company car, a hymnal ominously tucked in under the broken glass. Soft light streams in through windows, climbs up stairwells, flares in from the street, and shines across an abandoned game of solitaire on Christmas morning, in each instance, the light becoming the primary mood setter. The images offer thin ephemeral connections to the broader narrative but deliver no real answers – a jumble of wet family silver in the sink, a carved name on a black mantle in Princeton, and a crumbling office door with a hole torn through are pieces of the puzzle, but the entire story remains stubbornly untold.

There is a big camera deliberateness to these pictures that slows the viewer down, allowing Evans to show us the quiet alignment of the edge of the sink, the wall behind the mantle, and the grid of squares thrown by the backyard floodlight. His pictures are about details and memories, about what is lost and what can be rediscovered and  saved. Seen together, we see the outline of Evans’ father and his choices, but we are left enough room to insert our own ghosts into the gaps. In this way, his story can become ours, the specific transformed into the universal.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at either $3200 or $5000 based on size. Evans’ work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Read more about: McNair Evans, Sasha Wolf Gallery, Owl & Tiger Books

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