New York

Eve Sonneman

Castelli Graphics

The trouble with Eve Sonneman’s photographs is their failure to give the impression of a definite point of view. Neither removed nor objective enough to read as straight documentation, they record objects and events in a before/after format without a before or after. In the case of those photos recording actions, time seems to become the subject: sculling boats ready at the docks/empty docks with rippling water; naked boat frame standing in shadow/boat frame with ribs standing in sunlight. Between the before and the after, a definite event takes place, a change has been recorded, but somehow no emphasis on either time or action comes through. Two chairs are seen through a doorway; the perspective shifts and the chairs are seen at a slight angle. Are we to identify with the photographer as observer; does our interest lie in the possibilities of placement; does the situation imply change? A barrage of such questions fills in the gaps in the exhibition, gaps that should be filled in with a key to the information Sonneman wants to impart.

The facts she hands out vary greatly in implied content. At times the time elapsing between actions is infinitesimal, a matter of freezing live action frames. At other times she seems to be drawing smug contrasts, opinion-oriented comparisons, as in the scenes of a Greek ruin/a busy train station. Is she making a satirical portrait of busy tourists or is she merely intrigued with mass movement? Does she have an opinion or no opinion at all? One more example: a side-by-side still-life; beach stones, red blanket, various black objects on the blanket. All in all, a pleasant composition, one seen head on, the other from directly overhead. Obviously a set-up of limited colors and textures, the changed perspective offers no new insight into the moment, the atmosphere, the objects, their implied use, their implied user. The colors are bright, the objects bright and clear, the focus sharp. Everything is too real for the subtleties of further implication. The color, in fact, is distracting because of its too-perfect accuracy. It brings the scenes and objects shown into a boring present tense. These scenes aren’t larger than life, they aren’t minute examinations of moments captured from life—they could be happening now or tomorrow or yesterday, none of which would matter.

Documentation is flexible. It can glorify the mundane or ridicule the pompous. It can provide raw information and offer conclusions to the beholder. It can make a statement or make no statement, but in making no statement it reveals a conscious point of view. Uncomfortably, when Sonneman refrains from making a statement, it seems to come from her own ambivalence toward her subject, herself and her camera.

In only one case do these three elements fall into place in her work, in effective combination: Asleep on the Aegean pictures a man standing on deck of a moving boat; at his feet lie two figures asleep under a blanket. Before: the man stands at the rail, oblivious to the sleeping figures, caught in the awkward, unselfconscious act of rubbing his eye. Face distorted by the casual gesture, he is obviously unaware of the camera, the photographer, his companions, the ocean. After: his back to us, to the camera, to the sleepers, he is half-way down the deck stairs. Some essence of his self-containment is conveyed by the time-lapse, by the removed stance of the photographer.

In no other set of photos does a sense of Sonneman’s removal occur. Either her presence is felt in the guise of arranger, or in the role of poser—her people seem ready to smile at the camera on a moment’s notice. As a documentarian, the emphasis on subject and content is weak and vague in her work. As a photographer, she seems to lack a relationship with her camera. She neither speaks through the camera nor lets the camera speak for her—it is neither compassionate observer nor precise tool, limited by a seeming lack of direction. When artist/tool make it as a team, perhaps before/after will also have effect.

Deborah Perlberg