Monday, October 1, 2012

Christian Patterson & the Studio Backdrop in "Redheaded Peckerwood"

There is a penalty of not buying any art books before checking them out at the library. I often miss my window of opportunity to purchase a book before it is out of print because it took far too long for a library in the region to acquire it before I could request it. These days Ithaca College via interlibrary loan has provided me with my favorite books (thanks Ron Jude!) including the much praised Redheaded Peckerwood by Christian Patterson. Needless to say, I will be the first in line if a second edition is printed.

You can view many of the images in Patterson's book on his website (link above) but in no way does it replace the experience of paging through it. One day in Digital Imaging, I let one of my students borrow it and she nearly ripped out one of the notes adhered inside because she thought I left it behind.

Yes this book redefines storytelling and the photographic narrative. Yes it is an excellent combination of fact and fiction as Patterson retraces the tale of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. Luc Sante in the New York Times sums it up well in this review: "His photographs are of actual settings, actual artifacts, symbolic landscapes and metonymic objects; there are also archival photos and reproductions of documents. Mr. Patterson is attempting something that hasn’t been done much: subjective documentary photography of the historical past. This requires that pictures stick close to the physical details while remaining ambiguous; each of the pictures, no matter how innocuous its contents may be, is unsettling and anxiety-producing. The accumulation thrusts the viewer into the emotional center of the story, in a way you could call novelistic. It’s a disturbingly beautiful narrative about unfathomable violence and its place on the land."

There is something else about Patterson's book that I can't stop thinking about and shockingly, it lies in the form of technique. The way he documents objects with the studio backdrop drawing attention to the location and the act of staging a scene fascinates me. I continue to explore the white background with the Autobiography series and am inspired by his use of wrinkles, tape, creases, props to hold the paper in place, tacks, etc. It also reminds me of John Gossage's The Contents of a Laboratory (another blog post coming soon).

All the images below are by Christian Patterson and are from Redheaded Peckerwood. Check it out at the library if you don't own it. It deserves all the praise it has received. Unfortunately, I figured this out a year too late.

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