New York

Dave Freund

Light Gallery

Dave Freund’s pictures employ a few of the most sophisticated formal devices photographers have invented, yet in all but a few cases, Freund fails to find subjects worthy of his acute constructive sense. His formal adroitness appears in his manner of arranging detail. Repeatedly, he’ll continue trees into poles, fill wayward parts of his frames with leafy branches, execute pleasant juxtapositions—as between a cluster of cinder-blocks and a townful of houses, placed so that the houses perch, doll-size, atop the blocks. Freund’s framing is careful: he’ll usually include all of an object or exclude it entirely. He leaves few loose ends. The positive result of this meticulousness is that all the perfunctory clutter with which the lens impedes a photographer is neatly reduced to a perfectly sensible landscape. Unorganized detail can make a photograph unpersuasive, overly and dully literal. Freund’s world is, by contrast, eminently and impossibly sane, and therefore lovely.

It is also bland, consisting, often enough, of little more than a collection of poles and trees, a clapboard house with backyard, a network of phone wires in the sky, all seen comfortably from middle distance. I don’t think Freund’s subjects are inherently dull, but they are common enough to require a photographer to build something new out of them. They can thus pose a formidable challenge, one which Freund’s pictures avoid. Rather than build or see or wring anything extraordinary from common objects, he merely sets them comfortably in place. Though he has mastered a kind of skill with detail, he seldom looks for remarkable light, or for the collage of large and small form, the debate between foreground and background. Perhaps Freund’s stumbling block is his very fastidiousness: it does not suit his subjects. He gives us a happy world that cannot very much interest us since it doesn’t need us; offering no tension and no task, it offers no reward.

In an occasional picture, Freund does sustain some intensity. There is one which has us look down into a garden where a young woman on a swing flings her head back in the bright, low, afternoon light. Perhaps because Freund has, this once, made genuine use of light (and has darkened his picture’s brow with a close-up flurry of leaves) the little correspondences he sees become beautiful, The young woman’s skirt rushes away from her, leaving her bare leg golden in the sun; meanwhile, shadows of a man and woman stand back to back on a cypress trunk at the base of the frame. What these pairs—the pair of figures and the pair of legs—have to do with each other, why they reinforce each other, why the woman on the swing appears to know but not say the meaning of the pun, all this remains mysterious. And the mystery is long-lived and tantalizing to a degree that Freund’s other pictures fail to reach.

Leo Rubinfien