New York

Carl Toth

Light Gallery

I was immediately attracted to Carl Toth’s tiny collages made from 2 1/4” by 2 1/4” contact prints because the sprawling polygonal shapes of his works resemble Gordon Matta-Clark’s photo-documentation of Splitting (1974). Toth references this evidentiary mode of reconstructing a site in several scenes made from what look like shots taken inside holes in the ground. But he incorporates this mode into the broader genre of landscape photography and 19th-century panorama—landscape, cityscape, and group photos.

Both uses the discontinuities that arise in piecing photos together, discontinuities heightened by changing the angle of camera to ground. Jan Dibbets is also concerned with the relationship of camera to ground, but expressed in calibrated change. Dibbets draws sculptural implications from panorama—in taking the image of landscape he transforms it. Toth, on the other hand, seems to take the landscape as given, and seeks to locate himself and his subjects within it by describing a partial sequence of the moves he made to take it.

In his recent work, Dibbets has moved closer to the expansions and reductions of serial sculpture. I suppose this arises out of his basic concern for the object on the wall. Toth has adapted his formal means to portraits and narrative, reiterating many photographers’ concern for the subject. But narrative is also an implication of panorama, and is therefore implicit in Toth’s formal means. A panoramist can coincidentally describe a narrative since his/her camera moves in time. As it moves over a site, it might catch and follow a stroller or a vehicle in a cityscape, or a vagrant leaf or animal in a landscape. Then, of course, there is thefellow who dashes behind the stands so that his/her picture will be taken twice at either end of a group panorama. Several of Toth’s works develop such a coincidental narrative.

In one, Toth’s feet make multiple appearances as he moves around a subject reclining on the grass. In another, a woman with a movie camera shoots off the first frame to the left. She is filming where you cannot see, where, narratively speaking, you might have come from since you are moving left to right. The next frame is empty of human subject, but includes half of what might be a large roundish boulder. I say “might be” since the boulder is only completed in the next frame. It might have been the edge of an embankment, and its completion might have been the edge of another. Toth, in fact, may parallel Dibbets’ sculptural concerns. In the last frame, the woman is filming into the distance. Many of Toth’s young subjects hold cameras, and two of the subjects in his narrative works hold movie cameras.

The contact prints that Toth collages, I’d guess, were cut from proof sheets. The running proof sheet is a common device in magazine and newspaper layouts, perhaps because it connotes truth. It presents not only the images themselves, but the sequence and something of the context in which they were taken. Blowingup a photograph restores the image to something like visual scale as if to say, “This is what one sees,” rather than “This is what my camera recorded.” In retaining photographic scale—the tiny intense image of the proof sheet—Toth deals with the camera’s image harvest as it is first manifested (in the positive) in the darkroom. He does not tamper with these objects, but reconstructs the way he gathered them, the way he moved his camera in relationship to his sites and his subjects to get the images.

Toth hand-tints his photographs, but it is not a tinting born of nostalgia for the circumstantial coincidence of painting and photography that occurred before the onset of color film. Toth’s tinting parallels his collaging as a remembering act. The color gives a specious unity to his joinings, but it is obviously tinting and not color film. It is, then, only as true as he can make it, just as his reconstructions are only correct to the extent that he can remember the relationship of sequence on the proof sheet to where he had been standing.

Alan Moore