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.