Eve Sonneman: Lightness of Youth at Nohra Haime Gallery
March 24 to April 25, 2015
730 Fifth Avenue, between 57th and 56th streets
New York City, 212 853 3550
Poet James B. Nicola, whose latest collection, Manhattan Plaza, features a cover image by Eve Sonneman. offers his take on the latest exhibition of one of the veteran photographer’s most beloved formats: the Diptych.
Try this recipe, wherever you are: Look. Look hard. Close your eyes. Remember what you’ve just seen. Now turn. Wait. Open your eyes. Look hard. Close your eyes. Remember.
Such pairs of images might constitute the left and right panels of a diptych by photographer Eve Sonneman, the subject of her “Lightness of Youth” exhibition at Nohra Haime Gallery, closing April 25. Her “singular technique” (in the words of the press release) invites one to imagine and recreate not only the missing between, but also the prequel and sequel to an implied story, not only regarding the differentials of space and time, but also of human relationships and, through use of the close-up, of inner thoughts.
The simplest of the fifteen diptychs on view is Pica Chu, Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York, 2013, where a cartoon-inspired giant balloon-float begins to emerge in the sky from behind the edge of a glass tower, in the left panel, and then comes into full view in the right. As the numbers 1 and 2 can be added and subtracted to derive all integers both positive and negative, so do these two panels invoke, by extension, the rest of that float’s route, then other balloons and floats of that day’s parade, then last year’s parade and next year’s and so on into perpetuity and past.
The other fourteen all involve human beings in at least one of their images. In Blossoms/Umbrella, New York, 2013, panel left is person-free, while panel right is full of folks. Here the difference is achieved with a camera turn of perhaps as much as 180°. Samurai, Cherry Blossoms, New York 2013 involves only two costumed revelers in the left, but a crowd of strollers appears behind them, on the right, the difference not so much in camera position as it is in time and life.
Even without thinking about it, our mind differentiates the living from the inanimate, the moving from the fixed, the main characters from the peripheral, and all grades of in-between: folks who are seated or stationary and don’t relocate between the panes, but adjust.
In Mermaid and Sailor, Coney Island, New York 2013 we don’t know whether the featured couple are on a first date, when viewed left, only that they are not shy about costume (her) or make-up (him). But by the right panel we see she knows him well enough to embrace him at the waist with both arms, palm flat against his midsection just below the belly. Perhaps this is no first date after all. Is he surprised? His reaction does involve a turn of the head, after all.
Do we care? As much as we care to. The show is titled, after all, “The Lightness of Youth,” not its despair or tragedy, and presents a world-view of taking delight in the innocuous and anonymous on balmy days at such plush locations as Times Square, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Coney Island and Cannes.
The diptych technique engages us in a dynamic relationship with the otherwise static form of stills, much as white space surrounding the elliptical text of a free-verse poem vibrates with the mystery of the unsaid between the stanzas and lines. The wondering is left to us.
In Yoga, Times Square, New York, 2013 the left panel portrays not only the instructor and her sea of students—out of sync, incidentally—but also, along the right edge, four outdoor video screens with their own active displays, heightening the capricious and ephemeral that dominate visual stimuli in a place as rambunctious as Times Square. To the right the four screens are gone–albeit merely through a minor adjustment in camera position. Coincidentally, instructor and students have fallen into harmony, arms extended overhead, in a communal side-stretch, like blades of grass or grain in a breeze; each is unique in her individuality, yet all move as one. Surely there is no causality between the vanished video screens and the harmony of the humans, but the point is made aesthetically, even if lightly or by accident: the hecticness of ever-morphing video does not appear in the more harmonious life of the right hand panel because, it seems, it does not belong there. Such inscrutability of intent, of course, is the province of photography.
Sonneman’s integrating leitmotif involves not just The Crowd but, more accurately, The Progression, The Procession, The Parade—of people and relationships, elephant and entertainers, kayaks and sailors, life and thoughts, and, at core, of images and experience. “Lightness of Youth” delivers a new take on an old theme from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: the divine transience of all things—and moments.print