Friday, November 13, 2009

comments to come re Frank Hunter's photos

It seems appropriate on Friday the Thirteenth to reflect on the ill luck attending Frank Hunter's current show at Thomas Deans; a very distinguished guest (distinguished, so obviously it was not me) came by at the one moment when an emergency resulted in the gallery being closed for a brief period; the photos themselves, which take the platinum-palladium print medium firmly into the contemporary moment, lose their impact almost entirely when rendered in tiny low-res format online (but for those who know how to see, they can be viewed on the Thomas Deans and Company website).

Fortunately, the "Iowa Signs" series will be on the walls through Thanksgiving, but they need contextualization both in terms of art history (the compositions are more reminiscent of historic etchings than of contemporary photographs, in spite of being night shots of illuminated billboards) and in terms of scale: the image of a billboard silhouetted in its own lights with a bolt of lightning arcing horizontally across the dark sky above it requires a certain size to achieve its impact. Reproduced without the richness of the platinum-palladium print and in a tiny format, the "Iowa Signs" photographs feel like the Old Master paintings reproduced on Christmas stamps.

I hope to be able to write a sensible review helping readers to see what is in the miniature images available online, and I understand that Thomas Deans is writing a few paragraphs setting the work in historical context.

The contemporary context needs to be spelled out: there is a mini-history of photographs of billboards (including Gregor Turk's color images of desolate blank billboards), and Hunter's particular camera angles that situate his billboards in dramatically lightless settings is at once realistic and surrealistic—which itself is part of a contemporary tradition. If his photographs of forests and mountain glades hark back to a nineteenth century idiom, the "Iowa Signs" reach forward towards a twenty-first century one.


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