San Francisco

“Being and Passage: Photographs by William R. Hawken”

David Cole Gallery

To ask whether photography is an art is as meaningless as it would be to ask if painting or sculpture are arts; but it makes very good sense to ask if a particular photographer is an artist. In the case of Bill Hawken the answer is clearly yes.

This photographer has a straightfor­ward concept of means and ends––technically and esthetically. Like Edward Weston, he believes in settling pretty much for one film, one developer, one paper––and then exploiting the bejesus out of the combination, which from total familiarity with every step, he is in a position to do. Thus Hawken is free to use his eyes and his brain as the im­pulse moves him––which, luckily, is in a direction of felicity: one that is strikingly congruent with present-day art as a whole, and particularly so with a trend in the Bay Region too diverse to be called a school (thank God for that) and yet plainly recognizable by its common denominators. Like a dozen other creators in these parts (by no means only photographers––painters and sculptors are in the majority) Haw­ken is aware of weather, time and geography––not to the exclusion of the human element, which has become so introverted in modern art as a whole, but, by the very act of denying its supremacy, to its actual enhancement. (I could not love me, Dear, so much, loved I not Nature more.)

There has been a pitfall for photog­raphers in the temptation to be ab­stract, as such talented painters as Kline and Pollock were abstract. But where a rich paint-surface can bear the burden of non-objective forms, the photographic print, as regards its own special weight and quality, seems to be at its best when there is no hanky-­panky about the thing at which the camera is pointed. Hawken realizes this: he uses undisguised subject-mat­ter as conventional for the photographer as pears and guitars were for the early cubists: paint peeling on wood, sea­weed tangles, split faces of rock. But it is neither the picturesque in his mat­ter, nor on the other hand a “trompe l’oeil” parallelism with abstract-expres­sionist painting, that interests him. Rather (again like the analytical cu­bists) he composes within a shallow real space afforded him by usually quite recognizable surfaces in relief, which yet hint at recessions of unde­finable depth. In the “dernier cri” of art, Bill Hawken’s work is perhaps near­est to the discovery of the real object as a plastic means: “assemblage” is the term to which we seem to be committed, and which will have to serve till a better one makes its appearance.

John Bax­ter