Jeffrey Sturges: New Photographs

by Donald Goddard

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People are very practical. They make buildings to live in or work in, roads to go from one place to another, level places to park cars. There is nothing that can't be explained as an answer to a need, a simple fact of life connected to other simple facts of life. Larger questions or larger inflections are left to some larger arena, like religion, philosophy, or just idle thought, or, perhaps, art. And of course there are structures, institutions, for those things too (maybe not idle thought). Native Americans made round buildings and understood square ones to be alienating from the world--prisons. And so they are, which would seem to reflect an overbearing degree of regimentation. There are, however, other possibilities. Grids, squares, and planes have their own complications. They are no more single-minded than the people who occupy them or the world that they occupy. In other words, hyper-practicality signals a high degree of impracticality on another level. Ideal systems or structures serve their purposes ideally, but that is probably not what is ultimately apprehended or appreciated, perhaps even by those who use them.

Jeffrey Sturges operates outside of purpose. His photographs are taken when there are no cars on the road or in the parking lot, at sunrise before the business day has begun, at sunset when people have gone home, in general when there are no people around, those by and for whom these places were made. (Actually, there is a photo, not in the show, of a Korean indoor parking lot with cars in it, as opposed the one without cars that is in the show, which is sort of like taking the moustache off the Mona Lisa.)

In a series of four large color photographs, Glass Façade (Sunrise) #1-4, Houston, TX shows a modern office building with a parking lot at its base that absorbs light and changes color as the sunrise progresses. It seems finally to become the color of the sun. In this view, which belongs to the artist but also belongs to most of us, the building is not primarily a place where some people spend their working day; it is rather a progenitor of pattern and color that organizes what nature has given us. Road (Night), Korea, is undeniable as a superhighway, but is more immediately a path from one place we don't know to another we don't know, in the dark. Car Parking, Blue, Korea is an indoor parking garage, but it is the perspective, reflecting surfaces, and geometric shapes, the structure and infrastructure, the patterning of blue, beige, white, and gray that compel our attention rather than the function of this space. Everywhere we are in places we are surprised to find ourselves in, as familiar as they might be, because the world is not what it is purported to be; it is something more transcendent in its changing patterns of light, darkness, and color. For the sake of argument, sometimes a pipe is just a pipe, but beyond that it is much more than is describable.

The agent of human knowledge--sight-- is light, and Sturges refers to it specifically in every picture, as the sun, and by extension the sky, and as artificial light coming from lampposts and other fixtures. The tree in Tree, Façade (Sunset), South Brunswick is replaced by a light in Illuminated Façade (Dusk), South Brunswick (the two photos are paired), as though to make the identification between life and light. There is a constant searching, and alternatively, a constant revelation, but there is also in Sturges' work a sense that light does not and cannot reveal everything, that the dark context of our manmade illumination will always remain, far beyond the places we make for ourselves.

Donald Goddard © 2001

The exhibition was on view from April through May 9, 2002, at Spencer Brownstone Gallery, New York, NY 10013..

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