Mix and match: Stephen Posen’s latest book of juxtaposing photographs
Strands of blonde hair over the shoulder of a cherry red sweater, the zig-zag of an airplane pillow wedged between woman and window: this is all we see of the passenger seated in the row ahead. Yet the photographer of this image, New York artist Stephen Posen, thickens the plot by pairing it with something completely different in his new book. This airplane shot was taken somewhere over the Atlantic in 2013 and he couples it with one he took a year earlier and thousands of miles away at a mosque in southern Turkey, where a chain-link curtain disappears behind a golden door. Juxtapositions such as these, at turns enchanting, amusing, enigmatic, and sobering, fill the pages of ’Ellipsis: Dual Vision,’ Posen’s first monograph.
’Rather than manipulate images, I choose them,’ says Posen, a painter who describes his relationship with photography as both deep and circuitous. Shortly after earning an MFA from Yale in 1964 and commencing a painterly path of breathtaking range (’trompe l’oeil,’ muscular yet increasingly playful abstraction, a sure hand with cartoon characters and other pop iconography), he made an animated film and started shooting with the Nikon a friend brought him back from Japan. Later he took on the role of family videographer, documenting the early lives of his children, fashion designer Zac and artist Alexandra, in Soho and beyond. ’I became the dad who carried all the battery packs around,’ he says with a laugh. ’I filmed everything-I filmed Zac, all his play, all his creations. Crazy little nuances.’
And it is nuance that the 86 image pairs of ’Ellipsis’ are poised to reveal. They invite the viewer to bridge the distance that separates a hot-pink inflatable pool toy and a white swan, the shadow cast on a manicured golf course and a flick of winged eyeliner on a model prepping for the runway, the rusted curlicues of a wrought-iron garden gate and the gaping maw of a triple-load washer at a Pennsylvania laundromat. In an age of Instagram feeds, Posen’s approach to photography stands out for it’s inherent hybridity. The chance meeting of his instinct for abstraction with the stuff of reality uncropped and unfiltered. From a Cambodian crocodile (paired with a machine gun) to the lead singer of a KISS cover band (matched with a similarly open-mouthed lion prowling a fragment of the Ishtar Gate).
Zac says, ’In my dad’s paintings, photography, and film is the amazing possibility of appropriation and suggestion.’ The fashion designer recalls growing up amidst objects collected and artfully assembled by his father. ’The loft I grew up in was half his studio and half where we lived, and there were interesting ideas instilled early about the purpose of art and creation, which were not a decorative matter. It was about the dialogue with a viewer.’
’The possible dialogue,’ adds the elder Posen. ’For this project, I tried to imagine an ellipsis-dot, dot, dot-going down the gutter of the book. What happens in that mental space? What significant things are carried over into a soup of thought when something is successful? I know it happens on occasion, and it’s a matter of trusting in my own feelings about those imaginative places, and that other people will have them as well.’