Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lisa Scheer: Everyday rapture

"Truck stop," Lisa Scheer, All rights reserved

If you're anywhere near Greensboro, NC, check out The Mill Village Project: Everyday Life in Pictures, a show by Lisa Scheer which ends May 31st.

I haven't seen the show, but I would if I could. I've been following Scheer's work for the last few years on her Flickr page & website. She photographs human places -- landscapes, towns, roads, streets, buildings, interiors -- & occasionally does wonderful portraits -- in a variety of formats. Her technique is formidable, but the intensity of her vision can't be broken down into technique. I love to study the subtlety of her compositions, the way she organizes shapes & textures & utilizes deep-toned film colors, but her pictures never feel precious or draw attention to her decisions. Even though they're anything but, her pictures strike the eye as uncomplicated, straightforward.

"Winter fieldscape," Lisa Scheer, All rights reserved

How does she do this? I'd say it's something indescribable -- something irrational, maybe we could even say shamanistic -- that every real photographer has to develop. Simply put, it's an ability to surrender to the world, to respond to it beyond the level of words. It's what Walker Evans refers to when he decribes the photographer as "... a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts."

"Flowering Highway," Lisa Scheer, All rights reserved

Evans, in fact, seems to me to be Scheer's most obvious precursor. She shares his cool precision in service to a kind of pure artistic wonder, felt as superior to, if not a replacement for, social or ideological concerns. Evan's photographic values, listed in a catalog essay by David Walsh, might apply to Scheer as well: "restraint, precision, detachment, the irreducible."

"Waiter," Lisa Scheer, All rights reserved

But I think her lineage also goes back another generation to Evan's own great influence, Eugene Atget, a Frenchman who in the early 20th century spent years photographing the streets and shops of an ancient Paris that would soon be swept away by modernity. Scheer photographs the near-past of the South, where she now lives. Like Atget, she is drawn to plain, dignified places & objects that continue to meet commercial & social needs as a culture declines.

Like Atget, Scheer photographs without sentiment, yet her pictures are suffused with melancholy feeling. This melancholy is not nostalgic, not an overlay of the photographer's feelings. It comes from the pictures themselves. I'm guessing this comes from seeing -- really seeing -- the world through the camera. Scheer's best images seem to shimmer with the knowledge that tomorrow they'll be gone.


amgphoto said...

Lisa Scheer is a wonderful photographer, and actually I first found out about her by clicking the Visual link in the "Recommended Blogs" section just to the right!

Didi S. said...

Nice to see other people noticing Lisa's special eye & giving her added exposure. I'm looking forward to the book...

Didi S. Gilson

amgphoto said...

Nice to see you here, Didi! I'm not surprised we both admire Lisa's work (Aonghais M on Flickr)

Joey Harrison said...

What a nicely written appreciation. She must be pleased. And thanks for pointing out her work to me. I just had an enjoyable stroll through her flickr stream.

jannx said...

Lisa's photography speaks for itself

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