Saturday, March 3, 2018

Curran Hatleberg @ Higher Pictures

Curran Hatleberg has been living in some very rarified photographic air. Over the past couple of years, he has produced a large body of photographs of working class to poor Americans in parts of the country who have been forgotten and overlooked of late. People that in 2016, reached out with a terrible fury at that oversight, to vote in ways that political prognosticators had missed. Hatleberg’s vision of this world is of a distinct insider, whose presence in the work is almost invisible. The viewer is let in as an intimate participator in these lives, as is often not true with the emotional distance of reportage, which often comes across as exploitive. Hatleberg creates an experience that especially of late has grown more and more other worldly. Here buildings are destroyed by an unseen natural disaster and inhabited by a small child holding a snake, as if readying to rebuild. Men in a junkyard go about their business of digging a car-sized grave. Even more jarring, a family outing at a park is ground to a sudden halt by a woman’s gaze acknowledging the camera, suddenly stripping us of our anonymity and making us painfully aware that we are viewing all this from a posh Upper East Side gallery. These perspective-shifting moments are given even more weight by the subtler pictures, like one of a snake cutting through some lush rust-colored water or another of the bright dots of color mimicking the packaging of Wonder Bread on the door of what could be a condemned building or one of the child rapturously grasping at and the flickering light that surrounds him.

Hatleberg is one of the most exciting young photographers going, and his work is endlessly impressive. His art is developing at a rapid pace. His last show at Higher Pictures was fantastic but at times felt a little too subtle, where we were only getting the details that built this life without any of the greater narrative. In this new work, by contrast, the narratives are so arresting that they might even be sneaking into being stage managed. The clarity is so pronounced that, in the best of ways, it feels too good to be true, putting a wrinkle into the work that makes it all the more conceptually complex. My only reservations about the current show are that some of the repetitive pictures that give a glimpse into how the artist is composing this world and conceptually addressing the act of storytelling are not as nearly as interesting as simply having more images of the world Hatleberg has been able to conjure.


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