(Outward Manifestations of) Something Else
Von Lintel Gallery
Photography is no passive vehicle between events and viewers: Marco Breuer’s fourteen photographs and thirty-two studies at Von Lintel Gallery are events in themselves. Every piece celebrates the collaboration between man, light, and surface. The work is delightful and striking, but more than that, it is a lesson in surrender. Breuer scores pieces of light sensitive paper to depths that reveal the sensitivities of minutely differentiated layers of the paper. He then relinquishes control. The pictures emphasize what happens after the scores are made— what happens in and after the darkroom to change and elaborate on his design.
For about a decade, Breuer worked exclusively with black-and-white photo paper, pushing up against its limitations to surprising effect. In 2002, he began working with color paper. This was a brave encounter not only with a new kind of paper, but with color itself and all the restructuring of expectation that that entails.
(Outward Manifestations of) Something Else presents a new, confident body of color pictures. Light white streaks and bubbles dot the rich brown surface of "PAN (C-306)." The bubbles are caused by sand underneath the print at the time of scoring, and give the impression of three-dimensionality to an otherwise extremely flat plane. Some pieces resemble a kind of metallic grosgrain, and the colors Breuer achieves range from cheerful yellows to the bright white of reflected light.
The work also calls attention to the plethora of variables in photographic practice. In "PAN (C-266)," the whole print is scored, but only the right third of the paper was exposed to light before processing. Therefore, though the physical rhythm of the paper is consistent throughout, the left portion of the paper is white, while the right portion is full of color. The final piece pays homage to the fact that there are steps to this process, and that, in fact, the process is the point.
A second room in the gallery shows a more intimate side of the investigation: slices of scratched photographs arranged in patterns on board, small studies of erosive treatments. Named Dailies, these pieces illustrate admirably how the artist works with consequence: each picture contributes to the making of the next, each study informs another. They emphasize a real conversation between Breuer and picturemaking. A few such studies rely on the relationship between the photographic paper and the museum board itself, resulting both in casual optical illusion and an interesting challenge to the concept of a "work on paper": where, indeed is the "work"? The Dailies ask questions that the main prints do not: there is very little variation in line weight in the PAN series, and despite their distinctive beauty, the PAN prints may address the same aesthetic issue in the same way each time.
It is refreshing to note that all fourteen main prints are uniquely sized— all vertical rectangles, mostly averaging about two feet in height. Many photographers are confined by the parameters of their cameras, and their prints reflect the shape and scale of the same negative throughout. For a man unconfined by such parameters, Breuer does seem to make an unfortunately regularly scaled product. There is nothing much here under a foot high or over two. An ambitious digression in this direction might read with more relevance than the series of self-portraits arranged in the corner of the main gallery. The portraits contribute more to a sense of the project as an exploration than they do to the grammar of the main prints.
Handsome, strong, exponentially detailed, this work demonstrates literally that a print is a worked surface. Here is a photographer completely at home with the fact that his medium is a medium, unafraid to work with the print as such. His efforts are those of a draftsman, but the works are profoundly photographic in terms of their element of revelation: what happens between a light, a chemical, and a surface that is not predetermined by the imaginative apparatus of man? Marco Breuer’s work is a dare and a lesson. Description is not the end of photography.