Craigie Horsfield

Frith Street Gallery | Soho Square

In a familiar sense, an image offers something that was once present but is no longer there, or in the words of Maurice Blanchot, “the image is a cadaver,” representing something to itself at the moment of its withdrawal from the world. Blanchot was describing the literary image but his words speak equally to the photograph: to its inescapable link to the documentary.

In Craigie Horsfield’s case, though, this version of the nature of the photographic image proves less than adequate, even as what is shown appears to chart such a process of withdrawal. Ul. Gabrieli Zapolskiej, Kraków. May 1994, 1995, was taken in a factory. There is a line of three pieces of similar manufacture that to the untutored eye, look vaguely electromechanical. The space is unpopulated and looks abandoned, though someone has recently been there. Two shallow bins full of swarf sit on the floor beside the middle machine, and other rubbish that has been more or less swept together lies nearby. The trace of the broom in the dirt on the floor is clear. Like so many of Horsfield’s photographs the image is dark, a place in its own twilight taken at twilight, and like all of them it is framed in black. This framing device, the scale that points toward the cinema, and a surface quality that favors tonal contrast over precision, all insist on the photograph as a palpably present thing.

The gap between the taking of a photograph and the occasion of its unique printing (as long as a quarter of a century in one instance in this exhibition) is constitutive of the thing as it finally appears, not of a loss that has to be somehow got over. Far from being that dimly remembered sensation that the present struggles to comprehend, Horsfield’s photographs—peopled by shadows and references to things past—recognize memory and recollection as being a necessary aspect of present experience.

Mary Moszynska. Linhope Street, North London. May 1975, 1995, sits facing the camera. Her shoulders are slightly hunched and turned to the left while she looks up and to the right. As a result of that small turn of the head her slightly lopsided mouth faces straight out of the picture. The complex of bodily attitudes within the single pose recalls Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. The position of the body in E. Horsfield. Well Street, East London. August 1987, 1995, lying hard up against the wall, tips it up and onto the flatness of the image’s large, two-panel surface, somewhat as Gauguin painted his nudes. But what in Gauguin might be taken as a fascination with the exotic is here transformed into a quite different kind of otherness: the particularity of the individual. Horsfield has spoken of his need to deal with the world phenomenologically, with the reality that exceeds the form his vision can give it. In E. Horsfield. Well Street, East London. October 1983, 1995, the subject’s body, lying diagonally across the photograph on a block of foam, is seen from belly to thighs. The shallow focal depth of the camera renders the planes and angles of the room behind her as pale, blurred suggestions, a sharp contrast to the luminous and radiant Ul. Gabrieli Zapolskiej, Kraków. May 1994, which hung opposite.

Michael Archer