Thursday, August 2, 2007

Stuff I Gotta Remember Not To Forget

Darin Mickey: Stuff I Gotta Remember Not to Forget, J&L Books, 2007

The "reality effect" of photographs, the tacit trust we can enter into with them that even if they may possess a bias or intent, something of the real, something that really exists or is revealed, is exposed (excuse the pun) and communicated is still our primary faith in mechanically based images, even as the advent of digital technology is theoretically making the directness of the olde-fashioned film camera image a quaint fallacy of the industrial age. There is an opacity of meaning to photographs as well: without a specific context or caption, a photograph floats loose & can carry multiple associations. For example a police mug shot, out of the context of law enforcement can become an aesthetic object, a fragment of something, not as it was intended. Or found photos: what do they mean? Reality & loss of reality: can such a duality of meaning in photographs be approached or understood by the photographer? I would venture that this potential abyss can be utilized as a strategy, at least in a partial manner, & that it is in evidence in Darin Mickey's book, Stuff I Gotta Remember Not To Forget.

As a colleague of Darin's at the International Center of Photography I have seen some of the prints, which exist as mural prints. Initially I was surprised by the small format of the book. The images are primarily of Darin's father. To quote the end page of the book: Ken Mickey is a salesman. His product is storage space in converted caves and abandoned mines throughout the state of Kansas. In 2001, Ken's son Darin began following him around, documenting his life at work and at home.

Such an epilogue is a very laconic description of the photographs in the book, which reads as an all-too familiar documentary project. However Darin's photos are also emphatically NOT journalism - they are sharp, minimal, more a scientific examination of the everyday. Rather than directing us in a specific narrative, the images overload us with fact. But what does that mean? Such a presentation has an uninflected irony in it as the images with great detail and economy examine a middle-class Midwestern male existence, situated between a home in the suburbs & work in caves. Ken Mickey is identified at Darin's father however the images are most emphatically not private - one is not seeing a son's relationship to his father, or are we? It is never clear. & what does Darin think of his father? Do we need to know that? Can we? The images, seemingly intimate, can also be perceived as a proto-cinematic document - objective, floating in a field of un-meaning. I do not mean to infer any cruelty or rancor, but the images are also remarkably unsentimental. The strangeness of the cave images - cave as office - as well as the domestic interludes, of cocktails & TV sports, can be read as simple "fact" yet also indicate humor, a delirium of the ordinary.

Contra Darin's lush mural prints the small book reads more as a story; however it is also a pleasure to see a full sequence of them, in hand. The image of Ken Mickey jumping in his chair, watching sports haunts me: someone's father looks like a little boy. With minimal detail Darin Mickey presents a very curious panorama of small details, of daily life, as something both recognizable and strange.

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