Friday, January 05, 2007

Simple art? William Christenberry

Can art be too simple? That is, can a concept be so simple and obvious that it ceases to be – creative (if that’s the right word)? Essentially it just states – or restates – the obvious.

What go me thinking about this is that I am almost in two minds about the work of William Christenberry. On the one hand I find his work very appealing. It draws me in, especially the long time sequences (and most of his photographs are really about time). Yet the photographs themselves, and the most apparent concept behind them, just seems so – well – obvious (I’m reminded of Harvey Keitel’s character in the movie Smoke who takes the same picture at the same time every day from exactly the same place outside his store – an intriguing idea – but is that all it is?).

And yet I’m not quite in two minds about Christenberry. There is something else about them that is greater than the sum of the simple idea and the apparent simplicity of the images. The photographs do actually catch and hold me. Certainly there is a level of lyricism that goes far beyond the ordinary. But more than that, I think it’s the deep sense of affection that inhabits the photographs, the affection Christenberry obviously has for these places.

BTW, there is an excellent interview with Christenberry on NPR – well worth listening to: here


Stan B. said...

Christenberry and Eggleston are often mentioned in the same breath, and yet I can't get into the former for the exact reason(s) you alluded to (unlike Eggleston's work which has so much more going on despite its apparent "simplicity"). Yeah, rather see the photos from Keitel's Smoke character than Christenberry's.

tim atherton said...

actually, in the final analysis I do like Christenberry's work. I think ultimately there is more to it than meets the eye. But it's probably one of those things that can only really be done well once...?

Gudmundur Ingólfsson said...

What about Christenberry going in the footsteps of
Evans like he did erlier on ? Or his installations
with models of Alabama churches and Clan dolls ?