Why do we take photographs? What is it that first draws our eyes and then creates the impulse to capture the image with a camera? At that exact moment, what does the camera see that our eyes do not? And afterwards, when we look at the resulting image, what do we see then? What evidence emerges from the photograph that wasn't there before? What stories do our photographs have embedded within? What thoughts are jarred loose from our subconscious mind when we gaze at the image we created? What latent meaning is there now that wasn't evident previously?
These questions, and many more, swirled around in my head as I viewed to exhibit "Teju Cole: Blind Spot" at the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe. On display was a selection of photographs and text, pulled from a much larger body of work that was published as a hardcover book last year. The strength of this work lies in the equal footing that both the photographs and the accompanying text maintain. Often times, text can seem at odds with the images in an exhibit, especially when the texts are on small placards near the bottom of the frame, or if the statements are plastered on the wall near the entrance of the gallery. The work here has the texts sharing the frame with the photos. This approach mimics the book, allowing the viewer to consider the image and the author's thoughts in a more immediate manner.
The words provoke the viewer to go deeper into the individual images. Some of the photographs may seem mundane at first glance. The focal point not always apparent. The question of "why did he take this photo?" is often puzzling and unclear until one reads the text. Then, whole new avenues of understanding open up. Sometimes the texts themselves are only tangentially related to what we are seeing in the photos. In these moments, it seems the photos become more of an accompaniment to the words, and not vice versa.
The photos, taken in many different locations around the world, have a casualness to them that sometimes speaks to what William Eggleston referred to as the "democratic" quality of photography. Meaning a "democracy of vision, through which he represents the most mundane subjects with the same complexity and significance as the most elevated."
If you are anywhere near Santa Fe, NM, I highly recommend seeing this show, which closes on Sunday July 1. And whether or not you can attend, I would also recommend buying a copy of the book "Blind Spot." It rewards the viewer / reader with an abundance of deep insight and inspiration.