Friday, March 27, 2009


Tierney Gearon, Frame 11, 2007

I’m not that into Tierney Gearon’s new pictures. But the critical reaction to them has been interesting.

To review, Gearon has been showing in LA and London a series of pictures titled Explosure. Each is a double exposure created, she says, entirely in the camera. People have responded in two ways:

First, there has been general wonderment at the claimed absence of post-production, unalloyed by much real skepticism about the claim itself.

Second, there has been almost universal acceptance of the role of accident in the creation of these pictures. Gearon herself got this ball rolling with statements like “art comes out of accidents” and “double exposing them inside the camera . . . allowed the magic of an accident to happen!!!”

The magic of an accident!!! What could it mean?

I saw a guy get hit by a San Francisco Muni bus the other day. Although this happens so often that some might question whether it’s ever really an accident, I feel pretty confident that no art was created, and no magic either. So that’s probably not the kind of accident Gearon was talking about.

More likely she meant the accidental effects of superimposing one exposure on another, in camera, when you have less than total control over the results. But is that art? Isn’t it just the relatively minor thrill of coincidence? Can art actually arise from mere happenstance?

Maybe it can.

I used to be into the I Ching. At least to Westerners like Carl Jung, the key concept underlying the I Ching is “synchronicity.” In the context of the I Ching, synchronicity refers to the predictive power of the coincidence between patterns made by thrown yarrow stalks - or coins, or whatever you want to throw - and the patterns of human existence.

In a broader context, these “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events” are seen as manifestations of universal archetypes, as keys to the collective unconscious. Thus, an art created out of such coincidences might have some kind of special access to the dream life of the world.

The Surrealists thought so. That was the function of the “automatic writing” devised by Andre Masson and used, with varying results, by Joan Miro and Jean Arp, among others.

And, if you’re willing to stretch a little further, it’s synchronicity that accounts for the expressive power of works as diverse as Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and the stained canvasses of Arshile Gorky.

But Gearon’s work isn’t like that. In fact, there’s very little unconscious about it. Sure, the process of double exposure results in accidents, but they’re local accidents, in no way essential to the work. Gearon chooses the scenes to be superimposed. She doesn’t shoot at random, or with a blindfold.

In other words, these pictures aren’t dreams. They’re stories. And the project is just another expression of the narrative impulse which dominates photography today.

Gearon herself summed the whole thing up in an interview last January, in which she said: “Two boring images suddenly become more interesting than a regular photograph.” That’s about right.

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