In our oversaturated, hyper sharpened, digital color world where most photographers are chasing the latest digital camera with the most mega pixels, Brian Lav is still using the same tools he has been using for forty years. He chooses to shoot with a view camera on black and white film– a language that can speak more directly to the essence of a photograph. He remembers what Edward Weston wrote about the value of “learning to see in terms of the field of one lens, the scale of one film and one paper” and he has remained true. How delightfully anachronistic.
What he chooses to look at is usually close to home. He explores his immediate surroundings and photographs the commonplace: his daughter, a stream, trees, a Dairy Queen at night. But because he has such extraordinary control of his medium, the images are anything but common. He carefully balances the angles, lines and forms critical to the clarity of photographic expression and transforms the ordinary into a quixotic tableau that pulsates with nuance, emotion and sometimes mystery. He says his images relate accurately to what he sees, but if we were walking next to him we would not see what he sees. He has so mastered how to see photographically in black and white, that his images resonate with depth and detail, and lush shadows and middle tones that seem to stretch forever.
If a photographer stamps his photographs with his sensibility, then what do we learn about Lav by looking at his photographs? His process requires control and a meticulous attention to detail, yet his image of shadows playing on the side of the church is whimsical. His photographs are still, suggesting that he is contemplative, yet they pulsate with an energy that exists just below the surface. They suggest a narrative in that space that occurs just before or just after the instant he photographs. Lav doesn’t construct reality because he doesn’t have to. His photographs are simultaneously contemporary and traditional. They possess a timelessness and a familiarity that compels us to stop and look carefully, to meander through the frame, pausing to notice a detail here, a moment of clarity there. In one image, we see what at first appears to be a park shrouded in a lifting fog. But as we look more closely we see an old cemetery peering through the fog and we ponder death and ritual. In another photograph of the White Rose diner at night, we want to know what conversations took place there. And what is the old man thinking as he reads his newspaper?
We wonder about – or remember – romances that blossomed at the Dairy Queen. Playing fetch with a dog on a beach is such an American experience that we feel the wind and smell the salt water. Who is the woman sleeping, serene, dreaming? What a seductive and loving image. We remember when we felt the same about someone.
He also shows us a father’s love so palpably in the images of his daughter. Whether it is a the awkward stance of the young girl in her flip-flops caught somewhere between childhood and adolescence, or when, as a member of a wedding party in her velvet dress with flowers in her hair, and she looks back at her father, we feel the poignancy he must feel because we see the future when the young girl will grow up and walk down the aisle as a bride.
Lav’s images trigger our collective memories and remind us what photographs can do. They clarify and confuse. They mediate experience. They glorify, seduce, and clothe reality in mystery. He shows us what a photograph can be in the hands of an artist with an uncanny sense of that perfect moment when the light, balance, movement, stillness or expression coalesce.
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