I’ve had some exposure to some issues in translation around a Greek word, and a cognate, for theatre: Theaomai, which is the verb, and root, meaning to look upon, to see, or gaze (a word that deserves recuperation), and theatron, which is the noun, for the building set aside for the activity. It is interesting to me that writers have in the past thought of gazing at a spectacle in terms of dependence, conjuring up that the truth of viewing may be nothing less than the consumption and negation of those same images. I don’t believe this, and think it is far south from being true, and is to do with a desire to falsely pair art and politics. With regard to photography, we’ve recently had conversations here at the store about virtual reality cameras, like the Nikon KeyMission and the Ricoh Theta, and how 360 degree cameras of that kind have broken down the proscenium (the vertical plane of a theatre, usually a rectangle, like a movie screen, and in traditional photography, the disciplining frame). Without the organizing principle, the creedal event that encapsulates and orders the otherwise chaotic being that surrounds us all the time, what meaning does a photograph hold? Personally, I think any photographer worth their salt faces a challenge with these kinds of cameras, as something legitimately new has arrived. Those leading the way would be well advised to use these kinds of cameras to move seeing forward.
It is not theatre to photograph publicly. I believe that to engage in street photography, for good or ill, means an engagement that goes beyond method. Indeed, more than the camera, or technique, the essential value for great photographs has to do with an authentic non-actor, a person not playing a role, but a subject, becoming involved, heart and soul, with another subject. Judging good photographs as being good rests on discarding the misshapen anxiety concerning the prospects for human objectivity based on an understanding of what one sees in the mirror. This works as well for making good photographs, or so I imagine. Photographing, and photography, and so much more, has to be judged first, and foremost, for sincerity. The best photographs are not taken with the eye, but made with the heart. Made not for the theatre, but as a result of the gaze. Sincerity cannot always be seen, but can be felt. Optics are less important.
Which brings me to Anthony Hernandez. The new monograph from SFMoMA and D.A.P. charts the progression the L.A. based photographer took, from a returning Vietnam war medic, to street photographer, to… To what is the hardest part for me to describe. Hernandez was friends with Garry Winogrand and Lewis Baltz, but his work has evolved past the pure street photos of the former, and the style of the latter (Baltz has an association with an extremely influential exhibition, and later publication called “New Topographics”).
Hernandez is altogether his own, his later work is especially effectual to me, as it breaks away from the earlier street photography (Jeff Wall once wrote about how Hernandez could have been taken as one of the genres representatives if he had continued in that style). Hernandez’ photographs become sculptural, poetic, forms indicative of that Greek word, the root for gazing. He looks hard at the places on the edge of society, the places, the places that are in ruins. The most forgettable and negligible becomes clear to see, his photographs weld disciplines, photography, and anthropology. Photographs are then iconic, making memories of memories, concepts. Images remain, they are not simply consumed, negated, forgotten. I think Hernandez’ photographs are appreciable for their unbroken gaze. For me, this is the best photobook of 2016.