I recently came across the work of Judy Linn. She is best known for her photographs of Robert Mapplethorp and Patti Smith (you can see some of these pictures here, here and here). But Linn’s more eclectic recent work is worth a look. She currently has a show up at Feature Inc:
Untitled, 2002, by Judy Linn
In an interview with Index Magazine, Feature’s director, Hudson, was asked why Linn is the only photographer represented by the gallery:
She comes more from the history of photography She’s thankfully not a painter, sculptor, installation artist using photography. That’s so exasperating…It’s generally so dull and predictable. Admittedly there are a lot of different modes there. There’s the diaristic, the technical, the sociological (and so on). But they become codified so quickly that when you look at the work, you merely identify the genre or subject matter and then you don’t need to engage it. It’s also been killed by the quantity. One of the biggest problems with early 21st-century life (in general) is how the quantity of something diminishes its ability to have power and meaning. It’s really hard to fight that.
I can see why Hudson responds to Linn’s pictures. They are clearly made by a photographer – not an ‘artist using photography’. And the pictures do seem to skirt easy classification (documentary, diaristic, etc). The New Yorker described her show this way:
This survey of thirteen recent photographs—some in color, most in black-and-white—is modest, quirky, and offhandedly shrewd. Like so many contemporary photographers, Linn tends to take pictures of things that are not very interesting: bits of bread scattered on trampled snow, a sunny sidewalk peppered with tiny buds, a blond woman with an extravagant ponytail, a pine tree in a flooded field, a solitary cow. But each image is at once self-effacing and just right. The show doesn’t exactly cohere (what does this woman in bed have to do with that dishtowel?), but no matter; Linn’s scattershot approach feels right on target.
What is the trick? How do you make thirteen unrelated and unclassifiable pictures work together? Here is how Linn explains herself:
Words and pictures by nature don’t agree. There is no good fit. I can’t say what I do or have done, but I know what I want, what I try to do. I can tell how I aim. I can’t say how I land.
When I began, I hated what I couldn’t control—all the annoying things I couldn’t see in the moment of taking a photograph, the crazy stuff that jumps into the edges of pictures. Now I like that part the best. But I do want to be accurate, although “accurate” is a slippery word. I don’t mean a quality of photography. I think Cezanne, Ingres, and de Kooning are all accurate. I don’t think Ansel Adams is accurate. If you look at a Hiroshige woodcut of a whirlpool, you figure it is a fanciful rendition because how accurate can a woodcut be? But if you go to see the whirlpool, you see that he is telling you exactly what it looks like.
I think when someone first looks at a photograph they automatically wonder, “What is it?” I want a photograph that easily answers that question. I want to be extremely obvious; obfuscation is bad grammar. Hopefully, the two-dimensional arrangements of shapes on the paper will be as lively and interesting as the three-dimensional world trapped inside the photograph. There should also be something there you haven’t seen before. Something should happen in the act of looking.
I want a photograph that makes me aware of what is physically in front of me, a photograph that gives me the pleasure of getting lost. It is like asking yourself a joke: not really knowing what the answer is, giving up, and then seeing the punch line and really laughing.
Untitled, 1995, by Judy Linn