Wesley James
3/05/10 12:26 PM

The warmth of sepia tones warm the eyes, the uneven softness of burnt edges blur the mind. This is the effect of vintage photography prints, where nostalgia doesn’t so much kick in — that would be too harsh a description — as flow or flush. When a contemporary photographer deliberately employs processes that mimic the photography of an earlier era, he or she is conjuring this effect in the viewer, planting it there as a seed meant to sprout a fruit that, in the best of cases, provides nourishment today. Too often this is not the case, and a vintage look equals beauty as balm and not much more. Wesley James’s series, Untitled #20-30 (from An American Cemetery), is an exception. Rich watercolor paper and Palladium prints provide the ground on which the photographer’s images of American flags — folded, rolled, piled up — can rest both gracefully and critically. Gently placed amid fallen leaves and long grass, the flags are captured with a close-up lens that suggests tenderness but also the desire to look closely and seriously. Their vintage quality and titular location conjure Civil War-era photographs of soldiers, only here the flag stands in for long gone bodies, as posed as they once were, and as polished and proud, as confused and worn out, as dead and alive.

—Lori Waxman
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