Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s new show, East of Eden, explores an America banished from paradise through his signature dramatic vision
American photographer Philip Lorca diCorcia, you’ll know him for such work as Hustlers from the early 90s (currently showing at David Zwirner, New York) which featured portraits of Hollywood hustlers paid the going rate for their time. Or Lucky 13, sculptural portraits of Pole dancers, taut, elasticated bodies extended from this vertical line through the middle of the image, contorted flesh, a photographic version of a Francis Bacon.
East of Eden exhibition, the David Zwirner Gallery London. While diCorcia has often played with the process of making photographs, he is known as a ‘scenographer’, a photographer like fellow Yale teacher Gregory Crewdson who creates narrative images, heavily staged and theatrically lit. East of Eden is both a nod to the bible and John Steinbeck’s novel which plays with the motif of Cain and Abel. As diCorcia told Cathy Horn in the New York Times in 2011 during fashion week – diCorcia was showing fashion work at Zwirner which he had done for W Magazine. “I’m trying to get my attention wrapped around a project called East of Eden, which I started three years ago” explained diCorcia. “It’s a return to setting up images. It was kind of provoked by the collapse of everything, which seems to me a loss of innocence. People thought they could have anything. And then it just blew up in their faces. I’m using the Book of Genesis as a start.” It’s a telling diCorcia moment, the discussion of a fashion project during fashion week while flagging up a project driven by the financial collapse of 2008. And what’s more obsessed with ‘looking’ and the idea of the look than the fashion catwalk?
What diCorcia’s photography does is challenge the idea that there is a decisive moment, that there is some photographic-reality-slap that’s going to nail some human experience. It’s why his characters are always waiting for something, expecting something, and why the viewer replays this moment of anticipation with them. Like Andrea with her dog waiting at the edge of the forest. Being banished from Eden creates a desire that can’t be satisfied.
Looking at ‘sustainability’, ‘environment’. ‘landscape’? Have a look at Sylmar California from 2008. A classic Western vista, the classic frontier hero the cowboy (iconic echoes as ever in diCorcia’s work of Marlboro Man) a mythic image built from sepia tones and shades of brown and ochre. Turns out the landscape had recently been transformed by major wildfires. The beauty of nature has a destructive palette.
Which Image? Which Room?
I’d take the image of Lynn and Shirley and their retriever. It’s the play of light and dark, the subtle division of the space, and for all the drama and symbolism hung on this image, I love its ritualistic domesticity, the dog, the drinks, the pause for the photo (a catalogue writer for a different show wrote that the couple embodies Adam and Eve “before eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge and becoming aware of their nakedness”). Lynn and Shirley are, like Andrea above, blind, and I would hang it above my desk to remind me there a many different ways of ‘seeing’.
One question for the Image Maker?
When looking at the photos, is it essential to know the biblical background to the image? Is there a danger that the ‘symbolism’ makes these images more like illustrations of a story?