Mark Lewis

Galerie Serge Le Borgne

Born in Ontario in 1957 but now based in London, Mark Lewis began as a photographer, then switched to making 35-mm color films, which are mostly unedited and generally run the length of a four-minute reel; transferred to DVD, they are projected as loops one after another. Lewis continues to take pictures of his film locations, and here, in the first installment of a two-part exhibition, he showed three recent films, none more than four minutes long, along with five location shots, including three for films shown here. (The second show featured three earlier films.)

Isosceles, 2007, is a meticulously paced traveling shot around an old boarded-up, triangle-shaped, one-story brick building situated in the side streets of Smithfield, London, near Lewis’s home. The area was once the location of London’s livestock market (and in still earlier times a place for jousting and public executions, and a meeting place for peasants); today, the stubby industrial-age edifice starkly contrasts with the newly modernized market buildings around it. But the film’s real subject is the suspension of time in the camera’s surreally slow, technically perfect turning, making the beat-up building important for no apparent reason except to look at it.

While Isosceles documented time by way of location, Spadina: Reverse Dolly, Zoom, Nude, 2006, is something like a story’s climax, a long zoom leading to a seemingly important shot. But there’s no story, only a character. The camera pulls back slowly from an opening shot of foliage, maybe sycamore, sunlight dappling through the leaves, to reveal the grassy hill where the tree is rooted. A van drives by on a level street behind what must be Spadina Avenue in Toronto. As the camera continues to move backward, a modern high-rise apartment building with wraparound balconies comes into view behind the tree; suddenly, the camera quickly zooms in above the treetop, toward the building, to reveal a naked girl standing on a balcony. The film ends there, the girl charging its denouement with implied but unspecified suggestions of meaning—an artistic effect that makes these films (and much other art besides) pique the imagination.

The third film on view was Rear Projection (Molly Parker), 2006, a portrait of the Canadian actress. Her image is superimposed on a rural landscape with a dilapidated, one-story clapboard house set behind two gas pumps and a sign reading HOWLIN' WOLF—an abandoned roadside café, to judge from a catalogue the gallery had on display. The film shows the same background at two different times of the year; the scene appears in reddish fall foliage, then again in winter snow. Parker’s sheepish, hesitant smirk, a seeming reflection of her minor celebrity, evaporates the film’s objectivity; this aura of self-consciousness, hers and the viewer’s, seems to be the film’s subject.

Lewis’s titles, which I only read after watching the films, describe his process in formal terms—zoom, reverse dolly, rear projection, and isosceles (a form I couldn’t perceive in the film even after several viewings)—that actually undermine the formal strangeness of his one-or two-image films. They look like entrance or exit shots, but are nonetheless far more compelling to watch than the photographs are to look at. Slow-moving, rooted in the fixity of the photograph, these moving-picture “fragments” avoid action or development through narration or plot, employing cinematic techniques solely to make time itself visible.

Jeff Rian