What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Monday, January 23, 2017

William Christenberry - Visual Poet

William Christenberry, "Tool Shed - near Stewart, Alabama" (1977)

I want to pay tribute to one of my favorite photographers, William Christenberry, who died November 28, 2016. He was, for me, one of the best photographers of old shacks, sheds, barns, and other ephemeral places. He worked mostly in the documentary tradition of Walker Evans. Richard B. Woodward, in his “Country Roads” (The New York Times Sunday Book Review, September 3, 2006), says that Christenberry “moved in and out of the Evans penumbra all his life.” A brief “Goings On About Town” note in the January 9th New Yorker calls him “a visual poet of the American south.” The note, a capsule review of a Christenberry exhibition at Pace/MacGill gallery, goes on to say,

The attention that Christenberry paid to his subjects, which he often photographed years apart, bordered on the devotional. Here, his deceptively modest images are poignant monuments to the passage—and the ravages—of time.

That last line neatly expresses one reason I’m drawn to Christenberry’s photos. Another reason is his feeling for a range of rich, corroded, distressed textures – thick rust, weather-beaten boards, eroded brick. Christenberry’s pictures show the texture of time.

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