Neil Winokur, 31 Essential Items @Janet Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 31 color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the divided gallery space. All of the works are Fujiflex Crystal Archive prints, made in 2015. Physical sizes range from 8×10 to 16×20 (or reverse), and all of the images are available in editions of 5. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: While it might be tempting to write off the single object still life as a dead photographic genre, Neil Winokur’s new photographs are evidence to the contrary. Set against his now signature saturated candy colored backgrounds, his isolated everyday objects are reflections of ourselves – of the countless mundane things that surround our lives and the formal elegance to be found in them when observed closely.

As the slick perfection of commercial photography has encroached further and further on Winokur’s kind of images, it wouldn’t have been altogether surprising to see him opt for either deadpan irony or arch conceptualism – the two seem to be the default approaches applied by contemporary still life photographers from Elad Lassry and Sara Cwynar to Thomas Demand and Daniel Gordon. But Winokur’s pictures feel inherently unironic – not entirely scientific, anthropological, or celebratory exactly, but still perfectly straightforward. They seem to channel slices of Pop art, the offbeat elegance of Paul Outerbridge’s carbro arrangements, and Sarah Charlesworth’s objects of desire, blending them into images of things that resonate far beyond their inherent ordinary humbleness.

Photographically, Winokur’s pictures are deceptively smart. Lit from two sides, the objects seem to dissolve into their colored backdrops, resting in place but with ambiguous depth. The best of the images use the bold background color to cast a subtle tint, draping the object with washes of reflected light. Glass and metal things seem to embrace the colored environment best – a silver cookpot, tiny plastic bottles, a beer glass, an olive oil dispenser, a coffee scoop, and a frying pan are all transformed by their surroundings. Even paper products like a folded takeout box and a roll of toilet paper soak up the ambient color, their edges lightly tinted by the glow. Once you start to see these color games, each object comes alive – a camera and a black and white cookie doused in pink, a popcorn bowl and a bar of glycerin soap bathed in orange.

While the items on view here range from anonymous to personal, each one becomes an intimate portrait, not cool and detatched like commercial photography, but warm and enveloping like an embrace. There is a temptation to pick favorites and center on objects that ring true to our own lives in such a parade of things, but I actually came away struck by how strong Winokur’s images are as color studies – it’s like I had never seen this facet of them before. They’re more than just playful, easy to like pictures of our intimate possessions; they’re carefully crafted investigations of photographic surface.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at $4000 (8×10 or 11×14) or $5000 (16×20), with one group of three 8×10 images (Nail Clippers, Scissors, and Tweezers) sold as a set for $10000. Winokur’s work has little consistent secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2024 by Poursuite Editions (here). Softcover, 21 x 29 cm, 144 pages, with 107 black-and-white and color reproductions. Includes an essay by Clément Ghys ... Read on.

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