Louise Lawler, Why Pictures Now, 1981, gelatin silver print, 3 x 6".

IN 1981, Louise Lawler took a photograph of a matchbook propped in a common restaurant ashtray— a photograph that appears to ask the question printed on the matchbook’s cover: WHY PICTURES NOW. Nearly twenty years later, the photograph appeared as the final reproduction in Lawler’s book of photographs An Arrangement of Pictures (Assouline, 2000). There is little doubt that Lawler thought the question she had asked in 1981 needed to be asked again. Why Pictures Now poses its question not least to itself. It asks, in effect, “Why does this work take the form of a picture?” And: “Why am I—Louise Lawler—making pictures now?”

How does the photograph pose the question to itself, apart from the simple fact that it is a picture? The answer lies in the object photographed, the printed matchbook. Anyone familiar with Lawler’s practice knows of her affinity for these throwaway

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