Sean Thackrey :: Wine Maker

Sean Thackrey :: Wine Maker

Sunday, June 28, 2015


(I've been using this journal almost entirely as a test ground for a website devoted to my photography, to give me some visual evidence for what might work and what does not. What follows is my current draft of an introduction to that prospective website, partly to explain why I don't think it's a good idea…)

I suppose it should be difficult to explain why, for nearly 60 years, I have worked steadily at photography as an expressive and purely personal art, but have worked entirely in seclusion, without making any effort to exhibit the results.

The answer, which in fact is less difficult to express than it may be to understand, is that my photography is for me a matter of life and death, as is so often true of certain artists in almost any medium. A successful work is a resolution to a question that otherwise has none, since it cannot be asked in any other way; so the necessity to me of my work has always been the need to achieve such a resolution, one image, one realization, at a time.

But it's hardly my own work alone that affects me so strongly or has such great importance in my life; in fact my own work would not exist - which is to say that I would have had no notion of its possibility - were it not for the profound influence on me of that unbroken chain of great work in all media stretching back through the millenia to the caves of Lascaux and Chauvet, which continues to this day to be my constant reference and inspiration.

The corollary to being given so much is to give back what I can, and to begin that attempt is the purpose of this site. If these works did not move me, they would not exist; so, they might have real meaning to others as well, and that would please me greatly.

But its not clear a website can do this.

Because, in the same sense that "meaning" in abstract painting is generated as a consequence of the realization that what one is looking at in painting, is paint, not a window, it is true that "meaning" in most of my own work is likewise based on just what's right there as marks on a particular piece of paper, and thus has little to do with most contemporary photography.

Such "meaning" is assembled uniquely each time anew from the infinite particles of meaning we have painstakingly and individually evolved over a lifetime in making sense, literally, from the optical chaos into which we each were born; it uses that evolved particulate language of making sense from what is seen, and thus of all visual meaning, to express something, however complex, not representational of anything but itself.

But of course "itself" is its physical embodiment, and any change in its physicality changes its meaning. Most photography, and some of mine, survives this translation easily enough; Cartier-Bresson, as an obvious example, placed little value on the details of his prints and his images can be seen across a variety of media and remain essentially intact.

Of most of mine, and of all my recent work, that simply isn't true. A photograph whose meaning is embodied in the particularities of its physical presence as a pigment print on rag paper 24" x 40" will have that meaning always radically changed, never improved, and often lost entirely when translated to pixels on a computer screen, particularly since the change of scale is as crucial as the change of medium.

These prints are comparatively large because that is the only way they can be completely experienced. Viewed small enough to be taken in by the eye all at once, they remain stable, which is not my intention. When larger, they can be viewed closely enough to burst suddenly into a living expressiveness, with a complex of movement and interactions that is literally the life of the work, and carries the meaning of the work.

So there will always be an unbridgeable divide between the real thing and its digital (or any other) reproduction. But that's hardly unique to my work; and something often jumps that divide, hopefully often enough to awaken an interest in seeing the real thing; & what I'm really doing here is based on that thought. 

My objective is simple: I was an art dealer for 25 years, and a specialist in photographs; I'm comfortable in that world, and I'd like to move my work out into it now, so that the real thing can be seen as it really is; if this site helps accomplish that, while providing pleasures of its own in the meanwhile, it will have done everything I could have wanted from it.