IN MICHELANGELO Antonioni’s Blow-Up, the main character, Thomas, a fashion photographer in the London in the 1960’s, becomes obsessed with a possible murder that he thinks he has accidentally photographed. In looking for visual evidence of the suspects—photography does not lie, it freezes a real moment—he obsessively blows up the pictures he took until the point at which they are reduced to indistinct and blurred stains and in which they seem to lose their photographic objectivity.
The photographs of Luisa Lambri, on view at Luhring Augustine Gallery until August 11, are similar to those in Antonioni’s film. They play with the subtle gap between the apparent objectivity of photography and the perception of reality by the photographer and the psychological implications of this distance. And not unlike Thomas in Blow-Up, Lambri seems to search within photographed space for a hidden truth, breaking physical boundaries, going beyond photography’s function of documentation. Lambri’s previous work includes photographic investigations of modernist interiors. Focusing on small architectural details, such as windows, cabinets, or corners and their connections with light and shadow, her work attempts to reveal the modernist abstraction in its extreme geometrical condition. Although it is apparent that her photographs are not about architecture but about the intimacy of the space and the personal and emotional relations within it, architecture seems to be always present.
Certain Variables, the third solo show of Luisa Lambri at Luhring Augustine Gallery, is a close examination of the relationship between exterior and interior architectural spaces, part of a larger series that includes the study of three California houses designed by architects Rudolph M. Schindler, Richard Neutra, and John Lautner through the filter of diaphanous windows. Light seems to be the essential element of the variables, the real manipulator of images.
At first glance, the eye does recognize architecture, but it can also identify the leaves of a tree, some scattered light (in certain variations), and faint frame lines, suggesting that the observer were peeking through a window, or contemplating, his vision blurred to the sides. But in the game of disappearance—from the neatness of the first images to the whiteness of the last ones—when it seems that nothing is left, only the most architectural of all the signs still stands: a line, a geometric projection of architecture. The result is a poetic and gradual dissolution in which everything—the trees, light, the transparency of the windows—seems to lose its own weight, or its own power, gaining a meditative and deeper connection with the space of the gallery and the viewer’s own space. Following the path of their “master” Frank Lloyd Wright, the architects Schindler, Neutra, and Lautner used space as a new medium for architecture, an expression of modernity. Lambri’s photographs become like windows, the gallery becoming a domestic space. As Laszlo Moholy- Nagy, the Hungarian-born artist and photographer, reminds us: […] through photography we can participate in new experiences of space. With its help, and that of the new school of architects, we have attained an enlargement and sublimation of our appreciation of space, the comprehension of a new spatial culture. Thanks to photography humanity has acquired the power of perceiving its surroundings, and its very existence, with new eyes.
Certain Variables is a show about individual space, not only the results of architectural creation. Lambri uses photography as tool for a personal research, and she creates, voluntarily and successfully, confusion between private and public space: the gallery, the photographs, the houses, the viewer, and the photographer. I would suspect that Luisa Lambri does not see herself as an architectural photographer. For architecture in her pictures is a medium, as much as light or photography itself.
- Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo. How photography revolutionizes vision.
The Listener, 8 November. London, 1933 quoted in Architectural
Review, January 1937 p.12