Mark Schuler

Mark Schuler

The space between time

by Mark Schuler (United States)

My camera and photography have been an integrating force throughout my life and have created a narrative across my travels, professional life, personal relationships, and artistic endeavors. My photographic eye continues to evolve as it draws on these experiences. My collective body of images reflects the tension created between what is easily recognizable and the vague impression of what might be. They are the spaces between what the eye sees and what is imagined.

Portfolio from the Introspective Photography workshop with Michael Ackerman, June 2014.

Written review by ANDREAS J. HIRSCH,
Independent curator, writer and photographer

This self-portrait consisting of a set of four images delivered by Mark Schuler is a very Parisian thing in many aspects. The "American in Paris" creating this self-portrait of his bearded persona seems to cleverly play with the image of the typical "French painter" from the 19th century. He calmly rests in the middle ground of the images on what appears to be a bench in a public parc. The glimpse of a small part of the roof section of a typical Parisian mansion indicates the general location – Paris. The rich, blossoming nature indicates the summertime of so many Impressionist paintings, while the clothes of the people in the photographs seem to belong rather to a sunny, but slightly chilly day.

There are four photographs in this fixed set of images, like the four photographs contained in the strip coming out of the analog photomaton, the photobooth machine first installed in the Paris of the 1920ies for making automated identity portraits and immediately appropriated by artists including the Surrealists of the time. There are four different layers in the photographs: the background with trees and the house, the rear middleground with the photographer himself on the bench, the middleground with two other people appearantly passing by, and the foreground with flowers. The foreground is visually strongest due to the intense colours of the flowers and the space they take in the image due to perspective.

As with the photomaton taking four different photographs in a row, these appear to be four different photographs if we concentrate on the figure of the photographer, who is slightly turning his head in the process. But this is not the whole story: At least in the third and fourth image from the right, we see the photographer's head twice as in a double exposure or in an afterimage staying on the retina for an extra second. Only in the first image he looks straight at the camera, while his gaze in the other images seems to be fixed in a distance. The title of the work "L'Ile de Cite Meditation SRGB" offers an indication about the photographer's posture as "in meditation".

In three of the images he is not alone. In image 2 there is a girl passing by who seems to have noticed the camera, since it is looking at us. However, she is in full movement, does not appear to stop, and also does not appear to notice the man sitting on the bench. The girl is also present in images 3 and 4, but only as a faint echo of herself. In image 3 a woman carrying a rucksack passes through. Like the girl she is looking away from the man on the bench, but not straight at the camera, her attention seems to be caught by something else in the distance. Image 4 contains only her echo. While the girl in image 2 seems to be actually in front of the photographer on the bench, the woman is always transparent, as if caught by flashlight during a long exposure or transparently layered in photoshop. The latter option may be enhanced by the mention of "SRGB" in the title, indicating selective work with the different layers of the RGB-image that photoshop allows.

Basically, the photographer – while meditating – appears oblivious of the passersby, although his expression in image 3 could be read as looking at the woman in front of him. But the circle somehow closes, since in the first image he is by himself and in the last image only faint afterglows of the woman and the girl can be seen. Also the photographer's figure is more faint in the last image, the whole scene somehow dissolving like a mirage that had appeared before us at midday.

More attention should also be given to the flowers in the foreground. They put us, while regarding the images, in the position of an onlooker hidden between the plants. Their blossoms are much larger than the faces of the people in the images and – they seem well selected for their colours and shapes, for their powerful graphic and chromatic structuring of the images. The photographer taking his self-portrait this way puts himself among the plants of that garden, placing himself in the context of the calm of nature in the middle of a vibrant metropolis. His meditation may be seen even extending to nature in full blossom in counterpoint with the portrait of the artist as a grey-haired man no longer in the days of his youth. Marcel Proust reflecting on "temps perdu" as well as James Joyce (in his case an Irishman in Paris) writing about the "Artist as a Young Man" come to mind.

So this seemingly simple strip of four photographic images turns out be a multi-layered self-portrait, rich with references to the "genius loci", the history of art and the medium of photography. Congratulations!

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