Friday, April 3, 2009

Landscape by Christopher Russell

While out in LA several months back I discovered a small slipcased book by an artist named Christopher Russell called Landscape.

Landscape explores the public and private spaces where gay men meet for what appear to be random sexual trysts. Russell surreptitiously (by his own account) photographed those environments and meetings taking place under the semi-private cover of trees and brush in a park in San Francisco.

Russell's photographs, shot with a camera hidden in his jacket pocket are rough descriptions - sketches really. The plastic lens camera and black and white film describe less fine detail than grand gesture. Most of the natural surroundings are reduced to silhouette and the figures, often mere shapes that link up into pairings, suggest more than show. All seems to be happening through a veil of haze that also seems to be describing the passage of time.

An interesting comparison could be made to Kohei Yoshiyuki’s Document Kouen (Document Park). Both photographers are making images of public sex surreptitiously but where as Yoshiyuki's deal in specifics, Russell's are impressions. Where Yoshiyuki is an observer, Russell places the viewer into the role of both observer and participant.

Landscape is a small artist book that is cover to cover with photographs bled to the page edges. The paper is matte finish and leaves the tonalities swamped in muted grays. This murky tonal effect is a good companion for the images with their reduced range and emotional intensity. A small letterpress made folio with the book's title, acknowledgments, and colophon page is laid in - its elegance sits in funny contrast to the almost animalistic urgency of the images.

Landscape was published by Kolapsomal Press in 2007.