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 crucial to life itself, 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, and exhibiting this work hasn’t seemed a necessary part of that process.
But of course it is; and the purpose of this website is to begin to move my photographic work out into the world, after so long a gestation in isolation.
Even though it’s 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 current work is likewise based on just what’s right there as marks on a particular piece of paper; what those images are meant to do is the transmission of a state of mind, since that is what they are images of.
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 my earlier work, 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 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 50″ 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; and what I’m really doing here is based on that thought.
My objective is simple: I’d like to move my work out into the world now, so that the real thing can be seen as it really is; if this site helps accomplish that, while providing some pleasures of its own in the meanwhile, it will have done everything I could have wanted from it.
Sean Thackrey — Bolinas, January 19, 2020