Yola Monakhov Stockton, The Nature of Imitation and Post-Photography @Rick Wester

JTF (just the facts): Two simultaneous shows, hung against white walls in the main gallery space and one of the side rooms. (Installation shots for both shows below.)

The Nature of Imitation (in the main space) includes 21 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 2010 and 2015 and printed in 2015. The prints are sized roughly 16×20 (in editions of 9+2AP), 24×30 (in editions of 5+2AP), or 40×50 (in editions of 3+1AP). A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Schilt Publishing (here).

Post-Photography (in the side room) includes 12 black and white photographs, framed in white and unmatted. All of the works are unique gelatin silver prints, made between 2013 and 2015. Physical sizes are either 11×14 or 20×24 (or reverse).

Comments/Context: Almost by definition, a photographic studio is a place where the art making is precisely controlled. Most often, it is a constructed indoor space, where the intrusions of both the human and natural world are kept to a minimum, allowing the photographer’s creativity to flourish inside a defined, bounded, and generally protected physical framework. And while photographers have certainly created all kinds of chaos in their studios across the history of the medium, that unruliness and chance-driven uncertainty is usually managed or at least directed in some manner.

Yola Monakhov Stockton’s images of birds bring an element of uncontrolled wildness into her studio. These birds aren’t tamed, or trained, or pets in any way, and they seem to have been only reluctantly cooperative with Stockton’s conceptual plans and experiments. They flutter and thrash with seeming exasperation, tugging against harnesses and gripping gloved hands, perching on pedestals or poking their heads through cut paper holes. However she poses them (and I’m not sure pose is really the right verb here), they seem ready to make a run for it, like wary fugitives looking to get away from the confines of her setups.

What’s unexpected is that the intense fight or flight instinct of her subjects is what gives her images their energy. Around these birds, Stockton is performing various photographic experiments – light leaks, long/multiple exposures, filtering, shadows, different backdrops etc. – trying to conceptualize these fundamentally wild creatures. There is something entirely odd about a red cardinal or a downy woodpecker set against perfectly white paper or an ornate medieval tapestry; it brings natural and unnatural into close clashing proximity. That juxtaposition is like two opposing magnets being forced together, their internal energies driving them apart. While Eliot Porter’s close-up photographs of birds gave us a sense of the unexplored wonder of nature, Stockton’s images leave us upended and wrong footed, their fundamentally uneasy conceptual combination providing more questions than answers.

In the rest of the show, Stockton balances these bird images with their corollary – instead of bringing the wild into her studio, she brings her studio into the wild. A sheet of blank paper is clipped behind a heavy apple bough, graph paper (and a blue tint) interrupts pink roses, and a cyanotype lingers amid a berry covered bush, each one an attempt to introduce order and visual structure into the natural world. While these images work as an intellectual foil, they lack the same spark that animates the bird images, precisely because they lack that potential for something unexpectedly feral.

Seen through the conceptual lens of Stockton’s bird and nature studies, her second show rethinks the in/out problem using an alternate mechanism. Using a pinhole camera made inside an everyday-looking parcel, she has generated images that track the package’s path through various sorting facilities, mailrooms, and delivery trucks, each one a unique amalgamation of scans, marks, and ghostly inverted reflections. The parcel’s intermediate destinations along the way were typically private or at least usually unseen, so her final images are surreptitious recordings from the inside, letting chance be the compositional guide. Each one is its own journey, layering elapsed time like stamps in a passport into one overlapped picture. Like her bird pictures, these “post-photographs” (with the rich double entendre of after and mail-centric) are built on an inversion, in this case, surveillance from the inside looking out, rather than the other way around. While it’s hard to attribute any compositional intent to these photographs, their reality as ethereal evidence is nonetheless intriguing.

The smartness in these two projects lies in their conscious and deliberate use of disruption; each one is built with full awareness of the inherent instability of the process being attempted. That injection of mischievous unknown infuses both sets of photographs with vitality, turning each outcome into something uncontrolled and potentially surprising.

Collector’s POV: The works in these shows are priced as follows. The prints from The Nature of Imitation are priced at $3000, $5000, or $8000 based on size. The prints from Post-Photography range from $4000 to $8000. Stockton’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Yola Monakhov Stockton, Rick Wester Fine Art, Schilt Publishing

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