11/8/10

Jo Ann Walters

© Jo Ann Walters

I just discovered the work of  Jo Ann Walters today on Gabriela Herman's blog--Walters's series Vanity + Consolation is on display now at Kris Graves Projects and all I can say is wow, and how did I not know about her before? These are the kinds of photographs that make me feel awe, along with a bit of envy. The above picture in particular is striking because when it comes to "art" photography (versus family snapshots) smiling people in general, and smiling children in particular, can be problematic. There is always the danger of sentimentality, and of cuteness, something I've touched on as part of a previous post here, and am always afraid of in my own work. Instead what I find above is an almost painful tenderness: the smiling girl feels incidental in comparison to the two children wholeheartedly embracing. That kind of abandon, the full-on affection, is such a product of a certain age, and I see my girls in their stances. It is an entirely fleeting moment, and somehow seems like an image that belongs to the past; there is a bittersweet sense that these children are now all grown up--and the mother in the background, with her own tenderness on display, becomes an archetype of maternal affection. To have a photograph that could potentially be overly "happy" instead make me feel a certain kind of painful recognition is quite a feat.

There is a blurb from Laura Wexler that further puts into writing what I feel when I look at Walters's imagery: "Here are childhood's intimations as well as adult recollection; here is a finely chiseled, technically beautiful piece of art; a pensive, searing, almost sacred meditation on the ordinary." Unfortunately I can't get Walters's site to show anything but the first page, so we'll have to rely on Gabi and Kris for now--thanks to both for sharing such amazing work.

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