New York

Eve Sonneman

The first Eve Sonneman photographic sequence I ever saw was an intriguing construct involving boats on what appeared to be the Central Park Lake. It was full of the mood of a lazy afternoon row—and of some mystery encompassing two moments, two positions in space, joined in the middle by the artist’s intervention. In each view there was a fragment of a person in the photographer’s boat, and where the edges of the pictures met an almost complete figure was created.

That was several years ago, and Sonneman seemed like an artist to watch. But her latest work, 30 pairs of color prints all involving figures on top of the World Trade Center Observation Deck, is disappointing. The show is titled “Observations: 1/4 Mile in the Sky” and all of the observations turn out to be of other people making observations. Presumably there is a self-conscious irony in this fact, as there is in specific details of the pairs of prints, but it is irony which serves no further purposes of phenomenological investigation or even entertainment.

A picture of a purplish, twilit landscape seen from the top of the Trade Center is matched with a picture of a man with a camera who has probably just taken a picture like the landscape. But one cannot be sure; there is the same sort of purple sky but the photographs could have been taken on different days—it hardly seems to matter. In another pair a sign saying “The Lady in the Harbor,” mounted on the edges of the rail of the Observation Deck, is juxtaposed with a man talking into a walkie-talkie as if to someone far below. Again, the time interval between the two images is indeterminate by any internal evidence, and one cannot escape the feeling that the photographer has manipulated events. But such manipulation might even have worked had Sonneman enlightened or entertained us with it.

Occasionally the pictures are as far apart in space as they may be in time, as when Sonneman tracks, say, a man in a red hat from one side of the platform—close up—to the other—observed from a greater distance. But the formal links and clues in the pictures do not connect in an interesting or economical way, as they do in the combinations of Jan Groover or Carl Toth.

The boating sequence I referred to could be read both as one view incorporating two moments, like those Renaissance nativities with the flight into Egypt detailed in the background, and as two moments of exposure jammed together. A spark of connection jumped between the two images. But here the effect, even with titles that tell you what clue to follow (“The Red Cap” or “The Lady in the Harbor”) is simply of two stills pulled from a home movie that may or may not be interesting. (Incidentally, the titles seem quite consciously striving to sound like the titles of detective novels.)

The individual images are as casual in their composition as such a movie might be. Their only saving grace is the wealth of (mainly unnaturalistic) colors the prints provide. These pairs of pictures set themselves up as explicators of the frailty of individual moments, individual images, but their self-consciousness finally delivers only petty ironies.

Phil Patton