Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 3rd Person Archive by John Stezaker

"He walked down Broadway to 72nd street, turned east to Central Park West, and followed it to 59th street and the statue of Columbus. There he turned east once again, moving along Central Park South until Madison Avenue, and then cut right, walking a few blocks, he continued south for a mile, came to the juncture of Broadway and Fifth Avenue at 23rd street, paused to look at the Flatiron Building, and then shifted course, taking a westward turn until he reached Seventh Avenue, at which point he veered left and progressed further downtown. At Sheridan Square he turned east again, ambling down Waverly Place, crossing Sixth Avenue, and continuing on to Washington Square. He walked through the arch and made his way among the crowds..." -Paul Auster City of Glass

Looking through John Stezaker's latest book The 3rd Person Archive just published by Walther Konig, one is faced with postage stamp sized images of walking human figures cut from a copy of John Hammerton's 1920 encyclopedia Countries of the World. These tiny figures, like the ever-present flaneurs who occupy the backgrounds of paintings and photographs, are clipped from their role as extras and thrust into the position of main character.

I was reminded of Auster's protagonist Daniel Quinn from City of Glass as he surveils a man over several days and records his seemingly aimless wanderings through Manhattan. Here, Stezaker uses images that are in actuality many different people (all men) but in the way he has sequenced his "archive" one gets the feeling that perhaps we are also surreptitiously trailing these figures, but because of the severe croppings, our sightline is limited and similar to looking through a long lens or telescope.

The structure of The 3rd Person Archive is broken into three parts. The first limits the clippings to include a single figure within various urban spaces on sidewalks, street corners and in city parks. The second section includes two figures within each frame, and in the third section - three figures or more.

For those heady enough to tackle Michel de Certeau's theorization of the walker in the city (The Practice of Everyday Life), you may find relevance in Stezaker's archive. His subjects compose a story out of fragments and alterations of spaces, preventing the ability to see the whole much like an aimless walker puts up resistance to a mapped and ordered space by utilizing shortcuts and momentary diversions. If one agrees with de Certeau that "to walk is to lack a place" then Stezaker's flanuers, like Auster's protagonist, may represent the "indefinite process of being absent."

Stezaker plays with scale on the printed page by reproducing the clippings at their largest a couple inches square, to tiny pictures where the reader strains to make sense of the image. The effect is zooming in and out on our subjects emphasizing the thought of surveillance where "he" cannot escape our panoptic eye.

The 3rd Person Archive is the size of a hardcover novel with a rounded spine and elegant presentation. Though it might look printed in a straight forward process common to books of text, this book utilizes a six color stochastic printing with beautiful results. No texts accompany the images which are only divided into their sections by the change in the numbering system that appears at the bottom of the facing page.

Stezaker is a brilliant artist who through appropriation and little alteration continues to shift our perceptions. This archive, which was started in 1976, looks much different from his collage work with film stills or postcards, but within its seeming simplicity he has created a small book of wanderers which is anything but pedestrian.

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