BY Bruce Hainley in Reviews | 01 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 26

Judy Linn

BY Bruce Hainley in Reviews | 01 SEP 96

The life of the model with three legs - three gorgeous legs, her nickname was 'Legs' - is not a life usually on view. This is because such a model never existed on the runway, and yet here she is, or her three legs are: arches tensed, ankles calm as cream, halted, severe in black patent spike heels, the two fore-feet shinier than latter loner. Usually the sight is corrected, as if what is actually seen is somehow less interesting than what is 'supposed' to be seen (three legs of two models). Judy Linn traffics only in the accuracy of the actual, uncorrected. While photography deals with the world - its light, its stuff - it often captures pictures of a world never seen, showing just what is not there: the elsewhere here.

Linn, as Hilton Als shrewdly observed, began her career documenting a type of innocence perhaps gone for good, if it ever really existed outside the camera's frame or memory's snapshot. In her most recent work, expanding and deepening the beauty of her exhibit in the 1995 Whitney Biennial, Linn shows that she, like Elizabeth Bishop, whose strange, clarifying, nuanced vision resembles hers, has long since 'looked and looked [her] infant sight away'.

Six of the eight new photos (all works Untitled, 1995) are quiet grisailles tracking the sombre elegance of the nonchalant - suburbia's anomie, silent moments of metropolitan drift; people at home in cars, turning away, or backs already turned; people guarding a quickly retreating private life. The tones of Linn's black and white works look as if she were able to develop her negatives in gossamer, fog, and steel. Her palette completely resists black - both as a colour and metaphor. The mood is one of resigned wisdom, lonely pleasure and havoc, laughing to oneself but not always to keep from crying.

As formally shrewd and surprising as Peter Hujar, capable of revealing not only the interior life of humans but of animals as well (see her photo of a tiny, pedigreed dowager), her sense of the matter-of-fact yet weird juxtapositions which create the quotidian are as sophisticated and erotic as Jimmy De Sana's. But where his work is often choreographed, hers is spontaneous. Her aesthetic is as stubborn and fierce as Albert York's, his painting's sure bucolic myths recalling Linn's city diaries the way salt recalls pepper, absence loss. In one photo, a discarded muff-like piece of aqua fur rests among spools of thread, various sedate fabrics, wooden paraphernalia, forgotten like a question to a lover who never answers - never did - suggesting only something synthetic might be true. When the sun shines through the clouds, as it does now - and now - the brightness is an interrogation. Linn's sense of colour is like that sun piercing through grey thoughts, retreating.

The head of the bed is ornate, rococo as the wallpaper behind it, but the bed is empty; no couple recline on the two pillows. Its linens burn like a ghost knowing everything is near but utterly elsewhere. Elsewhere, the longing for it haunts these photos which somehow get to, or suggest, where they are not by dealing so intently with where here is. A car cruising by a tiled mosaic of the moon contains lunar remoteness by noticing it within the proximity of the passengers in the car, living as they are living. Just as resonant, a suburban ranch-style tract home in the rain has a mural on its garage door of snow and faraway mountains. At home with constant leave-taking, the various methods of escape (of which sleep may be the most wondrous), Linn sees with an insomniac vision, acknowledging both the conscious and subconscious, caught between dreaming and waking. Although many attempt to get elsewhere desperately, there is no rest from the world. Linn shows what stays, at least for the moment, and how it maintains. Like her photo of a windshield carpet-bombed by birds: seeing through it may be difficult, but the driver is still on the road, though his destination, to himself as much as anyone, is unknown.

Bruce Hainley lives in Los Angeles, USA. His book, Foul Mouth (2006), is published by 2nd Cannons, Los Angeles.