Land and Borderland: Photography of Lynn Silverman
It's hard to pin Lynn Silverman down. If you ask about her photography, its origins, its meanings, its intentions, her answer will be thoughtful and cogent, but it will be full of arrows, first pointing one direction and then another. She resists being interpreted, as do her photographs, the sinuous or stretched cords of lights and lamps, nearly but not quite abstract; the photos of windows that show hints of interior, suggestions of exterior, reflections and shadows; the fantasy tabletops of electronics and forests. Her pictures explore the edges of things, both literally, table edges and window frames, and metaphorically, the boundaries of consciousness and darkness, known quantities and the wild. Her work, as she says, is like that of a surveyor, charting out borderlines and frontiers.
In her Lifelines series of photographs, Lynn sets up tableaus of light and shadow, pictures of electrical cords, illuminated by the lamps they power, often draped or stretched over table tops. As she says, these photos are "a way of working with light in a plastic way, actually throwing light and casting shadows, as if it were clay." She enjoys the process, "profoundly physical," of finding the personality of the electrical cords, playing with their tension, positioning their plug ends or frayed wiring at different spots in relationship to the table edge.
For Lynn, this act of representing the cords and the light that illuminates them, drawing out the physical qualities of light, is of primary importance. "I'm working with what I see," she says, "what catches my eye." And yet, in looking at the photographs, one can't miss the metaphorical tensions involved. These are worlds of self-reflexive consciousness: power revealing itself, photography (i.e., writing with light) speaking of itself. Simultaneously, as Lynn points out, there are those regions of the photos that are outside our eye, the darkness below the table edges, for one, into which many of the cords descend. The table tops act as boundaries, light from dark, knowing from unknowing, just as the photos themselves ride the edge between representation and abstraction. In speaking with Lynn, she is careful not to "over-determine" your reaction to the photos either way, content with letting you ride the borderlines.
The photographs from her Lookout series—interior shots of windows and the things beyond them—work with similar frontiers. Much of the delight in photography for Lynn lies, she says, in "the pleasure of framing," selecting out of the world those regions that will lie within the photo, and the pictures of the windows only double that enjoyment, frames within frames. In these, we are given a window looking out at a scene, of grass, of buildings, of trees. At the same time, we are allowed a hint of interior space, whether of curtains or blinds, a bit of wall and furniture, the ornate aerial of a TV. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we are given the window itself and the way it reflects, refracts, and distorts, separates and joins the two worlds it borders.
In her biography found on her Maryland Institute College of Art homepage (she is an instructor at the college), Lynn writes, "The act of photographing is discovering a series of relationships between you and the world," and "like a surveyor, photographing is an orienting activity." The windows in Lookout thus act as a kind of psychic map, exploring our relationship and our position with the world, internally and externally, giving us a fix on our relative location on the earth. And yet, it's interesting that Lynn works hard to remove identifying signs from the landscapes she shoots through the windows. The grass we see through one window, for example, could be that of a suburban backyard in Maryland or perhaps at the edge of the Australian outback. "Most of the photographs employ a minimal amount of detail to evoke a sense of place, which may make the identification of place ambiguous," Lynn writes. "Such ambiguity plays on the perceived similarity or differences between places."
What we see here is Lynn again letting us choose, playing the line between abstract and concrete, orientation and puzzlement, so that we may bring our own thoughts to bear on the scene depicted. As she says, "the point isn't to make it difficult or into a game," but that tension of knowing and unknowing, she says, "is part of the pleasure of looking," the exploration we make with the eye. Lynn's photographs, in all their minimalism and pared-down composition, invite care and attention to detail. Much thought, feeling, and sensation lie along the boundaries, the edges of her always abutting worlds.