hile making my "picture window" photographs, I came to think that every room was like a gigantic camera forever pointed at the same view. In the dictionary, of course, the word camera in Latin means chamber or room.
I searched the country for these cameras and their views: the more unusual or picturesque, the better. It was often hard to tell from the outside what could be seen from the inside, so I was usually surprised when I discovered a scene in its new context.
Strangers with puzzled looks were amazingly cooperative in letting me into their rooms with my photographic gear. They let me take down the curtains, wash the windows, and rearrange the furniture. Often, too, they expressed their desire to share their view with others, as if it were a nondepletable treasure.
I liked the idea that my photographic vantage points were not solely determined by myself. They were predetermined by others, sometimes years earlier, and patiently waited for me to discover them.
Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased present John Pfahl’s Picture Windows. The photographs that comprise this body of work were made between 1978 and 1981, and although more then three decades have past since the photographs were created, their content and aesthetics fit exceptionally well within contemporary photographic practice – revealing both a lineage and a trajectory. In his introductory essay to Picture Windows, Edward Bryant, former Curator of the Wadsworth Athenaeum, and Associate Curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York writes:
Since the 1950s the picture window has been commonplace in the American visual vernacular. Its ubiquity has coincided with that of the wide-screen movie, the undivided windshield, the big painting, and that ultimate picture window, the television set. Surely, deep cultural needs spawned these inventions that expanded the act of looking. The picture window was not for long primarily an embellishment of suburban tract houses but soon spread to service stations, restaurants, apartment complexes, hotels and motels, nature centers-almost any place that an ordinary window once occupied.
Regardless of what is outside a picture window, the pull of a drapery cord immediately shifts that portion of the exterior world into relationship with the interior, expanding the apparent space and framing the exterior view. The intermediate pane of glass delimits and detaches that segment of the outer environment, like the plane of a canvas separates art from reality. The implications of that framed window picture provoked Pfahl into traveling through much of the United States to create some of his most innovative photographs.
Picture Windows presents the three-dimensional phenomena of visual perception fixed within the two dimensions of the photographic print. In these works, Pfahl demonstrates a creative vision that extends beyond the usual parameters of straight photography. Whether it involves the ordinary or the spectacular, his visual logic expands conventional habits of seeing to include a fresh regard for the enigmatic fabric of visibility itself.
Read full essay here
Pfahl's photographs are within the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Center for Creative Photography, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Los Angles County Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, and numerous others. Books by Pfahl include: Altered Landscapes (1981), Picture Windows (1987), Permutations on the Picturesque (1997), Waterfall (2000), and Extreme Horticulture (2003).
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