Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kurt Simonson, Northwoods and Pinocchio

The other day I was reacquainted with the work of Long Beach photographer, Kurt Simonson. The last time I had seen his work exhibited was a year ago at Point Loma University in San Diego. The recent viewing was work from two bodies of work: The Northwoods Journal and the Resurrection of Pinocchio.

The Northwoods Journal
This work is an on going project that is developing and maturing in ways that I find profoundly engaging. When looking at the images in this series words such as haunting, memory, presence and loss come to mind. It is as if I am with a guide on a highly personal tour, a tour of which I am intimately welcome, unfamiliar with the particulars of the story but am keenly aware that these stories pertain to mine as well. 

The imagery is firmly located in a sense of place, a place that is well known; a place that is layered with deep narratives, some joyful, some painful. The narratives seem close to the place or should I say, land. At times they are in front of the land, informing it. At other times the narrative seems to be absorbed back into the land, even to the extent of being completely immersed and lost. But Simonson seems to know where to look, a quick glance, and a prolonged gaze and in doing so he invites us to do the same.

There are seasons in this work: a season of building, of planting and a season of harvesting, of passing. A season to start a fresh and a season to simply be. this is work that celebrates life and accepts its passing. 

The danger of this kind of work is its proximity to the sentimental or the nostalgic. This is where I find the work so interesting. When if bumps up against these issues (sentimentality and nostalgia) the image is not drained by it but is vaulted forward because of it. Unlike the distilled distance in the work of Alec Soth, Simonson risks getting in closer and for the most part the risk pays off. These images tell the stories of very specific people in very specific places yet they resonate with all of our stories. 

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