Janet Cardiff

Evelyn Aimis Gallery

Janet Cardiff’s photography tests the conventions of visual presentation. Using a pinhole camera and extended light exposures, she creates dark foreboding images of the human presence in nature that defy the documentary vantage point of straight photography. In the two groups of work presented here, Cardiff develops short, open-ended narratives. Two-photo wall constructions, which she calls “Hidden Images,” each consist of a small framed photograph beneath a light, positioned behind a larger image mounted on an open steel frame. Cardiff’s couplings of images, such as a dark house emerging through the trees and a woman leaving a bed; or the photograph of a semicircle of chairs placed in a grassy field juxtaposed with a smaller image of a man seated in front of a box (a pinhole camera), are unsettlingly mysterious. A hand at a window, a man lying on a road, and dark scenes from nature all reek of vintage film-still gloom.

Cardiff’s work questions the role of memory within photography. The photographic image usually triggers instant recognition based on a prior understanding of the subject’s form, and it is this point of cognition on which the relationship between the viewer and the artwork depends. Cardiff’s images are so distorted, however, that there is little to connect them with readily known forms. As a result, we are at a loss to find our footing; our equilibrium is shaken, and our memory disengaged.

In another series, entitled “Fragments,” images are collaged to form plotless story-boards. Sets of three images, rephotographed together to form single prints, are presented like evidence of an event; a car speeds down a highway toward an accident while a cup mysteriously slides off a table. There is a synchronicity in these dimly lit pieces of evidence, as if to suggest that nothing happens by chance. Just as each of the events of a mystery novel contains a shred of information, the clues that Cardiff presents trigger visual associations, yet there is no fixed script.

Cardiff makes little attempt to tidy up her surfaces, the ripped edges of the adhered fragments clearly register their materiality, ultimately serving as a liberation from memory. Relying on a tradition of story telling, Cardiff employs these simple visual tactics to unhinge our patterns of memory recall.

Linda Genereux