Ann Stautberg

Intimacy has always been a distinguishing characteristic of Ann Stautberg’s hand-colored interior photographs. One senses that she discovers her images and quickly records them. Later they are reexamined, enlarged, colored, and transformed into works ambivalently poised between large photographs and small paintings. Two images in this show are typical of Stautberg’s earlier work. In one 24-inch square image, entitled Felipe Garcia’s House, San Carlos, Chihuahua (all works 1990), light pours through a window only to be absorbed by a dense, strangely comforting darkness. A thin, brightly patterned curtain diffuses the sun’s rays and creates a floating, irregular rectangle that dominates the image. Another, larger photograph, Table, Dallas, Texas depicts a still life, viewed from above and lit by slanting light from an unseen window. The apparently spontaneously composed elements of the image are dappled with puddles of clear light.

Stautberg also exhibited landscapes photographed at the Big Bend National Park. Although the park has provided images for several generations of Western painters and photographers, this vast, impersonal, and relentlessly well-lit area of west Texas seems an unlikely subject for Stautberg’s camera. The Big Bend evokes grandeur rather than intimacy; it demands that the artist step back rather than move in close and define a space of his or her own. As these new images demonstrate, however, Stautberg can engage such a landscape in ways that subvert its enormity without sacrificing its vitality.

Stautberg took these photographs at either dawn or dusk, and the crepuscular light that fills them imbues each image with a sense of anticipation; we are unsure whether broad day or an enveloping darkness is forthcoming. Stautberg captures the land’s vastness by foregrounding living elements that speak both of survival in a harsh landscape and that, by their scale, make it difficult to comprehend the real distances the camera depicts. In Ocotillo, River Road, Big Bend, Texas, the Rio Grande clearly winds its way into a distant mountainous horizon. In another image, entitled Spanish Dagger, River Road, Big Bend, Texas, we are not sure whether we are looking at a dry creek bed, over the edge of a cliff, or merely across a rutted dirt road. These landscapes retain the informality that marks Stautberg’s interiors. Her playfulness with scale is never tricky, and her respect for the desert is unconditional.

Photography is predatory: the photographer “takes” a photograph; an image is “captured” by the camera; truth is tricked out of hiding. Stautberg’s sensibility opposes this paradigm. Once she takes a photograph—wrenches an image from its reality—her actions are aimed at restoring what has been violated. The oil tints she employs appear to emerge from the images. The images breathe again under Stautberg’s touch, which is unfailingly gentle and respectful.

Charles Dee Mitchell