A Piquant Sojourn
By Tom Wachunas
“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” ― Diane Arbus
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” ― Susan Sontag
EXHIBIT: Afterwards - New Photos by Aimee Lambes / curated by Craig Joseph, at The Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography, 520 Cleveland Ave NW, in downtown Canton / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 1, 2018
The remarkable photographs made by Aimee Lambes while in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are not the kind of contrived, touristy scenarios you’d find in a promotional travel brochure. Nor are they likely to lure you into adding the specific locales that are depicted here to your bucket list of must-see vacation spots.
These particular places feel old, far-flung, not especially verdant, and a bit lonely. Residents might ward off decrepitude with a coat of bright yellow or turquoise paint on the weather-beaten facades of their ramshackle houses and sheds. Otherwise it’s a raw place, with unattended docks and boats piled with the tangled accessories of rough maritime livelihoods. In short, it feels simply too strange to visit, and you wouldn’t want to live here.
Then again, I could be mistaken…different strokes…whatever floats your lobster trap… all that stuff. That said, Lambes’ pictures are compelling – perhaps even oddly charming - in a number of ways, not the least of which being in how they pose more questions than people. In fact, there isn’t a soul to be found anywhere in these scenes – not one in the guise of a human body, anyway. Where is everyone? Is it nap time on a Sunday afternoon? Has everybody gone fishing? Are all the people here photophobic? Are they on vacation in more amiable, exotic environs? Has there been a mass exodus, apocalyptic or otherwise?
This is not to say that the photos themselves don’t have soulful presence. There’s real eloquence in these visions - a poetical attitude, a lyrical perspective. On a purely formal level, Lambes has a finely honed skill for engaging us with intriguing rhythmic contrasts of colors, shapes, patterns, and textures that can seem to sing or dance across the picture plane. If these images were songs, they’d be bittersweet ballads.
Beyond such arresting compositional elements, however, is something more subtle and ineffable – a quality or character that you either sense when you see it or you don’t. If it’s there, it will show itself, but only after honest, intentional seeing.
Look slowly. Take a walk on the quiet side. I’ve always thought that photography (and for that matter, any art form regardless of the medium or apparent content) is at its most impactfull when it points to something outside its immediate materiality. Even better, when it makes us feel something of or for the artist’s life. Lambes has written of these photographs that they’re a record of the last road trip she took with her son before he went off to college. That mood of isolation and abandonment prevalent in so many of her photos is, then, a mirror of her own struggles to come to terms with the inevitability of distance, separation, longing. It’s that bittersweet ballad again. We can hear it with our eyes.
It’s also interesting if not downright mystifying that Aimee Lambes calls herself “an introverted misanthrope.” Methinks she protests too much. She’s released her pictures, beautiful to be sure, into our embrace, indeed our lives. That’s not the act of a misanthrope, but of a generous soul.
PHOTOS, in order from top down: 1. Lenny Hanlon / 2. Bay of Fundy / 3. Yellow House / 4. Dinghies / 5. St. John / 6. Lobster Traps / 7. Lobster Floats