New York

Ralph Gibson

Castelli Graphics

Like Groover, Ralph Gibson makes photographs that play on the uncertainty of seeing.

For Groover the uncertainty resides in appearance; appearance as mirage of light and color. The camera, sensitive as it is to such immateriality, tells us all about appearance; it refuses to say that it is a lie. Perhaps there is nothing else; perhaps whatever else there is, is outside the provenance of seeing. If so, the camera, in seeming to deceive itself, actually undeceives us.

For Gibson the uncertainty of seeing has to do with how what is seen is interfered with by how it is seen. That is, how the human or photographic eye insinuates itself in its subject; how the scratches on our lenses become interlinear with the script of the world.

In the past, Gibson has taken as subjects such urban surfaces as concrete walls and asphalt streets, in photographs whose incident vacillates between the grain of the print and the texture of the subject; the synthetic term, or mutual level, becomes tonality. It is a perilous space to explore: it promises a recognition—perhaps a new definition of the object and its mode of perception—but may in fact deliver no more than a blank, as when a still is enlarged and greater clarity falls to greater obscurity before the desired lineaments of the object are seen. Such photography may offer no more than provisional limits—physiological or photographic—of what is “seeable” or “developable.”

The new show is both a recapitulation of prior work and a reconnaissance of potential new work. The subjects are parts of things; parts of nudes, walls, etc. that, as parts, allow for novel orders of positive and negative form, novel relative to the order that the whole dictates when it is seen. For example, one nude part of a body is shown in profile, in such contrast that it appears white, the space black, in such a way that neither takes formal precedence. In another nude, a nipple, the pores of skin, the grains of sand, and the constituents of the print are nearly equivalents: tactically . . . psychologically . . .

There are several photographs of facade details, generally recessed designs that Gibson photographs obliquely. In nearly all, the shadows are as definitive as the actual incisions. Here again, the camera, in seeming to deceive itself, undeceives us as to the immateriality of form as it is perceived.

Both Gibson and Groover do work in which here seems to render appearance exactly and there seems exactly to distort it. Often the here and the there inhabit the same photograph. It is hard to tell whether they desire a moment of clarity or a moment that allows escape into obscurity or illusion.

Hal Foster