New York

Sam Samore

American Fine Arts

In Sam Samore’s recent work, the artist differentiates his photographs by decade only. (All of the photographs in this exhibition were entitled Photograph, 1980’s.) Samore further blurs questions of time frame and authorship by having a private detective, or a surveillance photographer,actually take pictures for him. The graininess of the images indicates the surreptitious manner in which they were taken. Each photograph concentrates our attention on a single person. These subjects are caught unaware; they know neither Samore nor the photographer. The people have been spied upon, and the viewer begins to view them as “suspicious” or “wanted,” even though the usual meaning of these terms has been rendered inoperative by the nature of the project.

Samore encourages the viewer to become aware of the way significance is constructed through representation. The viewer searches for the codes that might betray some hidden behavior of these figures. One man, whose face we see, lights a cigarette for another man, whose profile is only visible enough for us to see he has a mustache. Is the lighting of the cigarette a sign of recognition, a signal of some kind? Most of the figures look vaguely Mediterranean. How does ethnicity figure into the viewer’s readiness to accept the culpability implied by the secret photograph? Samore’s project allows no revelation of hidden content or information that might close down the desire for narrative ordering, so that the search for meaning becomes the focus of the work. The word “code” once suggested the language of spies, but in recent critical discourse it has taken on new meanings. Yet here the word “code” is overlaid with its earlier history, and the result is an intriguing and relevant inquiry into the ideas of signification and surveillance.

Two pieces in the show that did not use photographs (both called Decorations, 1980’s) also formed part of the same project. One of the works consists of a row of four white, framed rectangular surfaces; the other work, which hung on the opposite wall, consists of three rectangular rows of three identical black surfaces. Given the shape and spacing of the panels, the works could be taken to refer to military decorations. Yet both pieces maintain a degree of abstraction that suggests other possible interpretations in relation to the rest of Samore’s current project.

Richard C. Ledes