JoAnn Verburg

pArts Gallery

No matter how intimate the setting or how relaxed the subject, JoAnn Verburg takes pictures of her husband Jim Moore as if she didn’t want to be caught looking. If Verburg isn’t photographing him while he’s asleep, lost behind a newspaper, or watching TV, she’s partially concealed the camera behind a plant or a table. The variable focus, multiple views, and multiple prints of the same view only increase the almost obsessive quality of the work. Moore plays along, acting as if Verburg’s massive five-by-seven view camera were recording him from another dimension. Together they’ve created hundreds of photographs that document a secret life made public with this exhibition.

Even though they are erotically charged, Verburg’s and Moore’s stolen moments are not stolen sex. That would be too purposeful, too active, too easy to live up to. Instead Verburg and Moore steal their secret life from the clock—minutes and hours of precious productivity given over to lying around in boxer shorts and bathrobes. Nothing could be more threatening to an economy based on a 60-hour work week, in which leisure means working out or at least gardening. Surrounded by the advocates of multitasking, laptops, and vacation Day-timers, Verburg and Moore dared to follow their own desires and in the process created a photographic paean to rest.

Rest is the collaborative obsession they couldn’t keep hidden. Far from being scandalized by her husband’s “other” life, Verburg is completely seduced by it. Instead of shame, she discovers quiet, instead of guilt she sees composure, instead of laziness she finds stability. Over and over again, Verburg delights in the closed eyelids, bottoms of feet, and shadowed navels of a body freshly eroticized by its lack of activity. Cut loose from social value and self-improvement, Verburg and Moore’s rest becomes mysterious and beautiful, the most ordinary thing in the world and the last thing we’d be caught doing in public.

Like Alfred Stieglitz’s portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe or Harry Callahan’s pictures of his wife Eleanor, Verburg’s photographs of Moore describe the dynamics of their relationship in photographic terms. But instead of Stieglitz and O’Keeffe’s heroic individualism or the Callahans natural harmony, Verburg and Moore’s photographic encounters are about the furtive pleasures available to those who aren’t afraid to look or be looked at. Think of them as lovers of today. Aware of the power relations—photographic and otherwise—that shape their lives together, they’re still determined to rewrite the rules to accommodate their own little piece of desire. Admitting to her own photographic voyeurism and surrendering his life of rest to public scrutiny couldn’t have been easy for Verburg and Moore, but without each other it would have been impossible.

Vince Leo