Arts Magazine1980




by Robert Yoskowitz


Photographic vision has been with us for nearly 140 years. We perceive the world in that rectangular format, reading it accordingly as a trace removed from reality. Photographic information composes itself either by pre-visualization or by chance, both retaining a framework for viewing the pictorial matrix of composition, tone, values, etc. For "straight" photography it is the unchangeable, given what is inside the picture frame. What you are left with is a series of proofs and evidences. The other alternative is "manipulative" photography: images. which are played with in the darkroom emerging as multiple components of contextualization. David Haxton's large (24 x 30") color photographs are, in a way, a synthesis of these two paths. Haxton's photographs are partially about staging within the frame of the image the fixing of forms and their coexistence with lighting. The props, in Haxton's case, are large sheets of background paper, sometimes recycled from previous photographs, which are pierced, cut, or torn to be arranged to work within a formal vocabulary. The papers drift down into the scene from the upper edges, their source unrevealed. Space is opened and closed in this tableau by cutting or tearing into the papers. By violating the pristine draping of paper, the opening reveals the space behind as well as allowing us access to the foreground with cascading peels of paper. To close off a field, a sheet slices through, usually near the center of the field attached to a length of lumber. This sheet has two purposes: as a divider of space, conducting itself as the splice to a binary image, and as a receiver of light shapes flowing from the cut-outs of an opposing paper drape. The divisions of space inhibit yet enhance our way of seeing. This duality limits direct entrance into the entire photographic space but allows us niches to view. Though the imagery has changed, the spatial handling of these photographs has the quality of Florentine interiors, especially that of Fra Angelico or Fra Filippo Lippi. In Lippi's Annunciation (c. 1440) subtle tonal shifts of figure and ground reverse themselves on opposite sides of a divisional wall/panel. Similar shift reversals occur in Haxton's photographs through changes in frontal and back lighting onto the paper sheets. These comparisons are about formal decisions and not about Christian iconography (though one could make the point about the denial of virginity in Haxton's light cutting through paper). Fronting and piercing space still has to return to the photographic vocabulary dealing with the realities of structural schemes on a flat surface. All has been arranged in the picture space beforehand and nothing is altered when the shutter is released. Haxton arranged his materials, always aware of the edge of the frame and how it will bleed into the white printing paper. The cut or tear pierces the orderliness of the arrangement. The purity of form conflicts with the fragmentation of the papered surface inside the photograph. These cuts (some are simple slices, cut-out rectangles, or shreddings) open up the space, allowing color and light to pass through. Thus these negative forms become elegant carriers of ephemeral light. To avoid making the image too romantic, Haxton places firm articles of tactile reality in the picture. The receptacle for hard reality is the base of the photograph, the studio floor. Gravitational weight holds down bits of studio detritus brads, staples, broken glass the evidence of art making. These same materials have the properties of cutting through something, in this case visual, not physical, space. The image fabricated in the studio contains its building components as the documentation to its making. Lighting and color are key elements in Haxton's work. At times the lighting origin is undisclosed, directing itself into the picture from off stage. Other times the physical light source is present, either as a flood lamp or fluorescent tubing. The lights become sources for color, either by reflecting off colored sheets or by wrapping the paper around them. This results in a wonderful glowing light similar to a Chinese lantern. Haxton usually uses natural light with white perforated sheets, which results in a warm lyrical mode. Notations of color are spread across the image with bits of torn paper adhered at critical junctures. The color is also made up of actively luminous shreds of complementary colors dashing in and out of the field. The vibrancy of cut-paper patterns equals that of Matisse's late cut-outs, and its resonance is expressionistic. It is all inside the photographic venue. Haxton uses painterly devices while translating them into photographic ground rules.

Tomasulo Gallery, Union College, Cranford, N.J., Dcember 4-31