New York

Charlie White

All photography aspires to the condition of film. Just kidding—but a lot of recent photography does nod to the look and convention of its more glamorous cousin. Why not just make a movie? Ask Robert Longo or David Salle. Someday Charlie White might end up with a deal at Paramount, but for now he’s content to reference a fictitious movie with nine large-format, color photographs that project the stagy aura of film stills.

Like many young writers and artists, White (a recent graduate of LA’s Art Center College of Design) prefers the genres of mass culture to those of the avant-garde. Two earlier projects played on science fiction and pornography using the venue of the soft-core men’s magazine (Demonatrix, 1998, and Femalien, 1996). In his first full-scale solo show, titled “In a Matter of Days,” White extends his reach: sci-fi, horror, ’70s-style urban grit, the sunshine noir of James Ellroy and Chinatown.

The action takes place in different locations around the neighborhoods and subdivisions making up LA’s strange landscape: a fancy modern home, a gym, a college, an empty street, ere. There’s no straight narrative here, just scenes from an invasion of alien monsters (courtesy of movie-industry props and computer enhancement). The creatures maraud and cavort amid cheesy, reality-effect details like Nautilus machines and an El Dorado, terrorizing less-than-perfectly-innocent citizens. The images range from the goofy (scrambling collegiates in Fleming House, Caltech, Pasadena; all works 1999) to the gruesome (a woman lying dead and chewed up in a drainage ditch in Lower Arroyo Seco).

By choosing easily identifiable locations and borrowing the more ridiculous, histrionic conventions of film, White caricatures both the real and the artificial, making the most of their intersection in Los Angeles. The strange version of realism here comes closer to the National Enquirer than to Manet. Like Jeff Wall and Vik Muniz, White focuses on photographic illusion and the strange way a photograph can both render the ridiculous credible and flash its own fakery. The conflict between the two grabs you, producing that rare, satisfying gallery event—the double take.

After their initial burlesque hilarity, the aliens become a device to link areas of Los Angeles usually held separate by class and race; obviously White has a bone to pick. The stiff, upper-middle-class, white family of Rosita Drive, Woodland Hills appears plasticine and vacant, while the Hispanic kids holding up the drippy green head of an alien in Highland Park look relatively genuine, all things considered. White wouldn’t be the first artist to connect panic over illegal aliens in Texas and California with the alien invasions of pulp movies, but his allegory is probably more general. Just as Cindy Sherman hinted that the ladies in the house might be starring in their own B movies, Charlie White suggests that Los Angeles is already a horror show, that the social order has already begun to disintegrate, that maybe the monsters are already here. The End?

Katy Siegel