New York

Peter McClennan

Germans Van Eck

In his large color photomontages, Peter McClennan gives the old cliché of photographing sleeping derelicts a surrealist slant. McClennan cuts the recumbent figures out of their squalid backgrounds and places them against new, more pleasant backdrops—leaves, beds of moss, or sandy beaches. In some cases, he simply transposes the sleeping men onto softer bowers, while in others, he turns the figures 90 degrees before printing them in pastoral settings. Presented vertically, the men seem to writhe and twist like Michelangelo’s slaves, floating in dreamy, Edenic scenes. Several pictures are almost Daliesque in their overtones, with figures appearing upright on a beach (one next to a bare-limbed tree). In another image, McClennan plays with disparities in scale between his foreground and background images, positioning a floating vagrant against the branching stems of a leafy plant that sprouts like a green parasol above him. Here the figure brings to mind Christ on the cross—but it also suggests the fake photographs of little garden fairies that Arthur Conan Doyle so loved.

On one level, McClennan’s pictures are unsettling, as they raise the usual concerns about whether photographing the homeless in this gentle, almost playful manner exploits their suffering. But the pictures offer neither pity nor scorn for the men they depict; more than anything else, they suggest that sleep is a particularly democratic state in which all can find a kind of peace. McClennan makes explicit this sense of ease to be found in oblivion. Within the fictional kingdom of his montages he is a benign ruler, transporting his troubled subjects into greener, more comfortable pastures.

Charles Hagen