- Double Watch
Sarah CharlesworthRochelle Steiner, ed.
232 Pages; Print, $49.95
In unconventional ways, Sarah Charlesworth (1947—2013) used photo processes Ansel Adams might have admired as she explored concepts Susan Sontag might have appreciated. Rochelle Steiner and three highly qualified colleagues provide measured views of her photographic work and archive in this finely produced book. Charlesworth was associated with the Pictures Generation of the 1980s, which focused on ways that photography was changing our lives, and she created studio shots in the 1990s that focused on a few symbolic objects in large, brightly colored fields.
Charlesworth's 40-year career began with her photo essays as a senior at Barnard College and during travels in Europe following graduation. As Rochelle Steiner relates, her "radical dematerialization of the object" began during this period. A romantic relationship with Joseph Kosuth also began, and they were part of the Art & Language movement's questioning of conceptual relationships between art and language. During her studies with Austrian-born photographer Lisette Model, Charlesworth created The First Human Being (1972), a grainy, black-and-white close-up of the first humans photographed by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, an early photography pioneer. Charlesworth turned a representative image of a person getting a shoeshine into a conceptual work that ironically makes the figures into a primitive dark grid on a light ground as it dematerializes them. Charlesworth began to question larger concepts in her Modern History (1979) series. In the 1970s, she began to separate verbs and nouns in news headlines and examine how in images and some texts white and black or negative and positive values could be layered to create new meanings.
In the 1980's, Charlesworth's studio experiments became more technical as she worked with appropriated images in her series, such as Objects of Desire: 1983-1988. Other Pictures Generation artists working in this direction were Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine. By 2012, she noted that one of her objectives was to juxtapose planned and accidental compositions to demonstrate that this is a false distinction. As Steiner points out, her "strategies developed over many decades" and included "creating cutouts, collaging, pasting, layering, and re-photographing wide-ranging images." At her death, Charlesworth was working on a series titled Available Light.
The main sections of the book are full-page images of several series named above and others, including Tabula Rasa (1981) and Red Collages (1983). The subjects range from news images to meditative symbols to a juxtaposed collage of a woman in a low-cut dress in front of a cut-out of a cowboy on a rearing horse, both on China-red ground.
Essays from Thomas Lawson, a painter and dean at the California Institute for the Arts; Mark Godfrey, a senior curator of International Art at Tate Modern, London; Rebecca Morse, associate curator of photography at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Eric Crosby, Richard Armstrong Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Carnegie Museum of Art are placed between other sets of Charlesworth images. Lawson concentrates on Charlesworth's early art, including the 1974-1976 periodical The Fox started by Charlesworth, Kosuth, and four others. In 1979, while she and Kosuth were sharing a huge loft with separate workspaces, she fell in love with and eventually married filmmaker Amos Poe. The Objects of Desire images floating on bright grounds include everything from a bodiless white wedding dress on a black ground to a black leather harness on China red ground.
Mark Godfrey's "Modern History" essay covers how Charlesworth conceived and developed that body of work.
Rebecca Morse focuses on the "objecthood of images" in her essay—that is, the strategies the artist employed to manipulate her images, including "fractured patterning," or the tearing or spreading apart of the pieces of an object. Charlesworth also created symbols by isolating objects in color fields and by using color to reinforce the object's symbolism.
Eric Crosby's "In the Studio" essay focuses on how the artist literally worked, including a few notes, test patterns, and comments about her studio methods, notebooks, and source materials.