Written by Tracey Shankweiler, Gallery Host
Philip-Lorca diCorcia (b. 1951); Eric Hutsell, 27 Years Old, Southern California, $20, 1994; cibachrome print on paper; gift of Zoë and Joel Dictrow; 2012.12.8.
One particular piece of the Telfair Museums collection not on display that is quite intriguing is Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s photograph titled Eric Hutsell, 27 Years Old, Southern California, $20. Philip-Lorca diCorcia is a contemporary photographer enthralled with the banality of everyday life. His work is comprised of meticulously staged props, lighting, and models assembled cinematically to depict an image that is almost too average. diCorcia’s photography captures a fleeting scene of life and everyday emotion – perhaps loneliness, boredom, or a moment of humor – an emotion that anyone can relate to. Yet these images lack a certain narrative giving us a contradictory feeling that we are glimpsing but a snapshot of a moment in time, while also peering into a moment of eerie stillness. Often when visiting a museum, one expects the story of a photograph or painting to be explained for them – be it by the artist themselves or through that little plaque beside each frame and a curator telling us what story to believe. However, diCorcia does not give us such an advantage. With each photograph diCorcia manipulates a scene of perfectly normal objects and places, yet they spare no detail as to what is happening in the image. This lack of information forces the viewer to fill in blanks and create a narrative that speaks to what aura we feel the photograph gives off. Is it sensual? Are you nervous? Or afraid? Or creeped out? Is it just another passing day stopping at the gas station in your Ford or Toyota, with mere feelings of boredom and a nagging need for a midnight snack?
Throughout the 1990s, Philip-Lorca diCorcia created a series of photographs titled Hustlers, in which he approached sex workers on the streets of cities, particularly Los Angles, and paid them their regular hourly wage to pose in his orchestrated scenarios. In diCorcia’s Eric Hutsell, 27 Years Old, Southern California, $20, from 1994, we get this brief introduction to the scene through the title of the picture – who we are looking at, how old he is, where he is from, and how much his time cost the artist – and yet are presented with the same feeling of uncertainty so common in his ouevre. It is nighttime, and Eric is standing behind a gas station sign that displays thrillingly low fuel prices for the current viewer. He is somewhat backlit by the harsh fluorescent yellow lighting of the streetlamp and station which to me mimic a scene from an old horror movie. Eric’s face is neutral, not giving us a hint to his intentions or thoughts. This is where the viewer is faced with the predicament of a lack of narrative. Are we in danger from being stalked or attacked by this man? Perhaps we are to view it from the perspective of Eric’s next customer as we roll up the street. Either way, Eric stands fully dressed in his odd outfit including a fully buttoned up long sleeve shirt tucked into denim jeans. He is positioned behind the large fluorescent sign as his looming figure and blank face give us a sense that we are waiting for something to happen.