Critics’ Picks

Sean McFarland, Waterfalls, 2007–17, forty-four dye diffusion transfer prints, 56 x 76''.

Sean McFarland, Waterfalls, 2007–17, forty-four dye diffusion transfer prints, 56 x 76''.

San Francisco

Sean McFarland

Casemore Kirkeby
1275 Minnesota Street #102
September 9–October 28, 2017

Sean McFarland treads lightly through the history of Western landscape photography. In this exhibition, “Echo,” he utilizes the familiar iconography of mountains and waterfalls, but his treatment undermines the presumptions of truth, power, and possession that have long been associated with the genre.

McFarland’s wall installations read as a cross between an artist’s studio and a nineteenth-century laboratory. In the largest of three such groupings here, dozens of Polaroids, tiny cyanotypes, and gelatin silver and ink-jet prints are either framed, affixed to the wall with sewing pins, or housed in handmade paper boxes. In a side gallery, the installation Waterfalls, 2007–17, includes forty-four different images of waterfalls. Another unnamed group features photographs of landscapes or objects made to look like the natural world (his moon images fascinate), then pictures of those pictures, seemingly ad infinitum. This multitude represents a spectrum of distance from primary experience. The copies point in two directions at once: to their own singularity (many are unique prints) and to the original experience that they aim to recreate. In the era of fake news, these images underscore the importance and elusiveness of truth. As Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the UN, wrote in the New York Times, Americans increasingly question “whether objective facts exist at all,” cautioning that “the sense of an epistemological free-for-all provides an opening to all comers.” In photography, if not politics, we are right to pursue the question of objectivity, especially in images that seem to depict a land open for the taking and receptive to any fantasy that we might subject it to.