Lyle Rexer Review
Alyssia Lazin: Seeing and Seeing With

Almost from the beginning, there was a tug of war going on in photography, and inside photographers themselves. One side said: the world captured is enough. What is more fascinating than seeing things rendered as they are? The other side said: things as they are are never as they are, but transformed as we look, into memories, feelings, dreams and desires. How do things look when also felt?

To describe or express – which is the greater truth?

Alyssia Lazin’s photographs insist on both potentials. The place, the moment, the physical situation of the artist is only a jumping off point for images that are open-ended and suggestive, elegant images that allow memory and association to take over in the viewer. She indicates her intentions by the titles of her series. First, Abstraction. Lazin deliberately restricts the visual context of the photographic subjects in this series, providing intriguing detail but withholding pictorial information that would allow us to place ourselves and what we are looking at. She works in a rich tradition here, of Edward Weston, Minor White, Aaron Siskind and many others. Yes it’s a wall, or a stairway, or the side of a church, but cropped to emphasize a texture or an element, or seen in watery reflection. The goal is to move us away from the particular to the general, without losing the evocative textures and light of the real. To see something and see with it. To renew sight, and perhaps re-enchant the world.

Reflection, the next series, adds a deliberate level of metaphor. Here nothing is seen simply or directly. Every image combines at least two views, sometimes more. Perhaps because their own technology has until recently involved mirrors (inside the camera), photographers can’t stay away from mirror imagery. Such images comment on the mediated character of any photograph, how it cannot be taken simply as a faithful rendering of a neutral reality but must always be approached as a double of the photographer’s vision. In Lazin’s case the caution is more of a celebration, and a summons for the viewer to reflect on what appears in the image. We recognize that the process of seeing is active, adding another level to the image, a layer of reflection that cannot be seen – that of our imagination.

Which brings us to the third and decisive series, Transformation. In these images, the photographer no longer has to guide us, no longer seeks to open our vision by complicating our sight and surprising our expectations. Here things are shown directly and we are asked to engage them as a kind of oracle, as what they are and yet more. The images have a character: they often describe places, objects and people (rare in Lazin’s work) in states of transition – decaying walls in a ruined house, a man standing on a dock, a piano covered with dust in a nearly empty room. It makes sense that such work would come out of Italy, where the artist lives, for Italy is a country whose modernity can never be more than half finished, so burdened is it by its own monuments, its own picturesqueness. Its transformation is always in progress and always looks like decay.

But we are not talking about is a world in transformation but something else: artist and audience in transformation. The practice of making art has re-presented the world to Lazin with the injunction to see it as extraordinary. To be a photographer is to allow the world to give you a gift, and to learn how to pass that on to others. Yet the artist does not merely point but frame and in framing, transform: transience into permanence, instants into eternities, experiences into memories, images into symbols. No wonder, then that in this series, references to art and the artist’s process proliferate. Those transformations are confirmed and heightened by the surface of the print, on paper appropriate to gouache. Is it a work of the eye or the hand? Of observation or imagination? Of digital technology or primordial impulse?

Is it, after all, really only a photograph?

Lyle Rexer
Art Critic, curator and author of numerous books and essays on photography and art
Brooklyn NY