(United States of America 1945 – )
After studying art history during the 1960s Judy Fiskin turned to photography, producing her first significant photographic work, ‘Fifty California small images’ in 1972.
Conceived in series, Fiskin’s photography is distinctive for its consistent use of the 2 ½” square, gelatin silver format. Her subjects are often Californian suburban houses, photographed with the deadpan detachment reminiscent of Ed Ruscha’s street photography, as well as flower, furniture and art displays. Despite their humble nature, these images brim with a subtle radicality. As noted by writer Virginia Heckert, ‘Fiskin has continuously focused on the arbitrariness of [aesthetic] choice while at the same time being deliberately decisive in her own choices’.1 The artist continued to explore these issues when she shifted to video work after health problems led her to abandon photography in the mid 1990s.
In ‘The end of photography’, grainy, black and white Super-8 film captures random details of mid-century Californian suburban houses and their lawns. The camera retains a static viewpoint very much like Fiskin’s photographs. A cool voice-over gives an account of Fiskin’s darkroom contents which are about to be discarded: ‘…no more reels, no more tapes…’. To a contemporary viewer, the list of these might seem as anachronistic as the low-resolution film or the cheap-looking boxy 1950s houses which are registered by the camera. But the metaphorically ominous dimension of the voice-over becomes apparent as it accompanies images devoid of people: ‘…no more water, no more darkness…’. Fiskin suggests the impermanence of not only things but an entire way of life - inevitable in a society in constant search of the new. The tone of the film indicates some anxiety about what will replace more physical and individualistic mediums such as analogue photography and how this might change the way we see the world. Yet, for Fiskin there is also a positive value in anachronisms. As she noted in an interview, ‘once the comfortable meaning of things slides away, it makes you aware of your own contingency in the world… it opens objects up for you to really see them and have a strong experience of them. That’s a positive thing, and it can be applied to everything – even sixties apartment buildings.’2
1. V Heckert, ‘Some aesthetic decisions. The photographs of Judy Fiskin’, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2011 p 2
2. J Divola & J Fiskin. ‘Interview with Judy Fiskin’ in Bartman, W (ed) ‘Judy Fiskin’, A.R.T. Press, Los Angeles, 1988 p15
David Pagel, Los Angeles Times, ‘Farewell to an art, to an era’, pg.20, 13 Apr 2007.
Joy before the object, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Sep 2013–02 Feb 2014