Siskind, Connor: Clear Vision

By April Rapier

Aaron Siskind and Linda Connor, February 15- March 31, at the Houston Center for Photography.

There exists an undeniable bond between Aaron Siskind’s and Linda Connor's pictures, the obvious connection being the student-teacher relation.
There are other dimensions to the bond as well: they have re­mained supportive friends over the years, holding each other's work in high regard: the influences remain intact and reciprocal; and as Gay Block points out in the curator's statement for this, their first pint exhibition, they agree that the human element is the most impor­tant ingredient in their work." The exhibition includes retrospective bodies of work (Connor from 1967 -84, Siskind from 1937-83), and it is extremely enlightening to witness the respective progressions.
Connor's journeys, both emotion­al and physical, are not unlike no­tations in a diary, for they are in­sightful and introspective. There is no sense of passivity or lack of involvement, or of the refuge one can take behind a camera, although at times she demonstrates the an­thropologist's probing neutrality. The more recent pictures are clear­ly descended from a progressive vision and understanding established in her work with a soft-focus por­trait lens.
As with the work of Emmet Gowin, the imagery is accessible by virtue of being drawn from sur­rounding life and visible experience, yet is magically transformed into an introspective odyssey. She now views things in larger scale, looking at the sum rather than the parts. One is inclined to view this as a distancing from the subject matter (petroglyphs, Peruvian landscapes, life in India and Nepal), because in many instances she is literally documenting from farther away.
Less representational, the associ­ations are grounded in the present, the factual versus the fictive, won­drous specters in captivity versus descriptions of them. As she once drew us closer to her sense of the past, now Connor draws us closer to the inhabitants and treasures of the world. She seems a part of wherever she is, unafraid to feel and experience the connections, heralding new possibilities all the while. The world as she sees it is rhythmic and arcane, the pictures exultant in discovery.
Aaron Siskind’s work needs no introduction, nor is it necessary to assay it critically. His is a marvelous legacy of singular devotion, evi­denced by faith in and continuation of a clear-headed vision. As teach­er, influence, and inspiration, he has been invaluable to so many photog­raphers around the world, and from time to time, we all sound notes of gratitude. But it is likely that he can never fully know the debt photography and its other practitioners owe him.
There is no discordance here, no false note — although he laughs about what "came in between," the experiments and rejects; rather, as the pictures flow chronologically, they demonstrate a profound self-awareness. He understands the subtleties of resource and intention, the ultimate act of clarity culminating in the picture.
I spoke with him on the morning of January 20; he was hard at work in the darkroom, enthusiastic about the new pictures from his most recent trip to Sicily, sounding hale and jovial, at peace with his work and the world. It was thrilling (an­ticipation of new work) and re- assuring: his vision and energy are self-perpetuating.