When I mention that I think Laura Letinsky’s table still lives are some of the most exciting photographs made in the past decade, my friends think I’m putting them on. They usually look intensely at my face like they’re waiting for the punchline. Confused, they ask “seriously?”, and screw up their face like they smell something foul. To this I respond “Yes, I'm serious!”, perhaps sounding like an angry dock worker.
I was exposed to Laura’s work through her first book Venus Inferred which is full of well made images of couples. I then saw two shows of her latest still life work in 2002 and 2003 at Edwynn Houk gallery here in New York and was surprised at how much I came away from the show excited by what she was creating. I liked the Venus Inferred images but found their references (beauty of gesture, sexual realism and relationships) tiring as what they describe has been continuously approached by photographers (especially by women artists) of late. So when I saw her departure into completely new territory, I appreciated the risk.
The games Letinsky is playing in this work might be reminiscent of Jan Groover but they do not end with formalism being the dominant force of the work. These photographs teeter between being false constructions (like Groover) and documenting something simply found as is. We may know that we are being manipulated. These objects are painstakingly arranged but their basic make up, stains on tablecloths, spilt grains of food, are so common to anyone that has ever cleared a table that their familiarity exploits our trust.
These photographs, to me, are as much about class and abundance as anything else. There is a sense of money being spent on finer quality food and it being consumed with little regard for waste. The remains have been left behind for someone else, us, to clean up. We are not part of the party. We weren’t invited.
In one image, the discarded pull tab from a can of beer or soda sits below a dividing line of cleanliness and dirtiness. The way the light falls on the table distinctly creates a two tiered sense of what is considered upper crust and what is pedestrian. This is a remarkable descriptive feat considering we have been given: some light, a tabletop adorned with glass stains, a piece of metal and some pieces of fruit.
One other remarkable feat is that we are presented with many of these photographs that often work in similar ways and yet I do not tire of them. That isn’t to say that all are necessary but I would argue that a strong majority of them should be seen. Letinsky seduces us in each frame with new forms and delivers descriptions of light that would entice anyone with the gift of sight.
Now Again published by Galerie Kusseneers in 2005 gathers together 33 of the table still lives along with 18 newer works in a nice small catalog. It is well printed and cleanly designed but it reads as what it is, a catalog. I would have preferred the newer works in the later part of the book have been left out to make a more complete package. There is another title published by the Renaissance Society called Hardly More Than Ever which I do not have but from what I remember from leafing through it once, it is entirely of the table still lives.
The newer photographs are interiors of houses that are either being moved into or out of.
Let’s hope that they have solid foundations and great light.
Book Available Here