Farewell to an art, to an era
In the time it takes to log on to some computers and get running, Judy Fiskin takes visitors on a bittersweet trip down memory lane. "The End of Photography" is a 2½-minute movie that, like all great works of art, tells more than one story.
On one level, the Super-8 film transferred to DVD and shown in a curtained-off alcove at Angles Gallery is a profoundly moving eulogy to darkrooms, those cramped, adapted labs that have been disappearing from basements, art departments and photo-processing stores as traditional photography is replaced by digital imagery and electronic printing.
At another level, Fiskin's little movie is an eloquent adios to a way of life in which patience, ingenuity and eccentricity are virtues, as long as they are accompanied by optimism, humility and graciousness.
"The End of Photography" is simply structured. Each scene features a shrub, tree or architectural detail of a modest building Fiskin shot from the street or sidewalk. People never appear and she holds the camera still. The only movement occurs when a car goes by or palm fronds stir in the wind.
The narration consists of a woman's measured voice reading a list of the things in Fiskin's darkroom. The inventory is generic. The tone and tempo are equally anonymous. But the unsentimental tenor evokes a lifetime of memories — of fond and frustrating moments spent in charged darkness, hoping for magic as images swim into focus amid chemical vapors and giddy excitement.
Fiskin's list of unadorned nouns has its own poetry. Like a pedestrian Proust, she conjures a lover's relationship to otherwise unremarkable things: beaker, tray, developer, stool, radio, drying rack. The sense of loss intensifies as it becomes clear that Fiskin is not bidding farewell to mere objects but to the ethos, character and sensibility the daily use of these things engendered, sustained, rewarded. With little fanfare, her melancholic movie makes you wonder how digital technology will change the way the world looks and, more importantly, the people doing the looking.
Outside the alcove hang 22 of Fiskin's photos. Each measures about 2 inches on a side. These idiosyncratic pictures of stucco bungalows, asymmetrical duplexes, small apartment buildings and elaborate graves acknowledge the standardization at the root of Jeffersonian America. They celebrate the misfits, oddballs and eccentrics who inhabit its idealized grid.
Some of the photos are from the 1970s. Others were shot in the 1980s and printed last year. Next to the movie, all seem to belong to a vanishing world.