Lincoln Clarkes: Giving Notice reveals a hybrid aesthetic
At Initial Gallery until August 30
The street photographs featured in Lincoln Clarkes: Giving Notice reveal a hybrid aesthetic, somewhere between glam and gritty. Glitty, perhaps.
Clarkes has an eye for fashionably dressed and attractive teens and 20-somethings, but also for the unsettling contradictions of urban life. A handsome white guy leans on his bicycle as he negotiates a drug deal on a littered sidewalk in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside; a half-naked homeless woman sleeps beneath the neo-Gothic arches of St. James Cathedral in Toronto; an immaculately maintained vintage car is parked in front of a boarded-up, castlelike building in Detroit. In many of these C-prints there resides another form of hybridity, that cross between voyeurism and reportage that characterizes much street photography.
Clarkes triangulates his home base between Vancouver, Toronto, and London, England, and his carefully composed street photos are largely shot in these three cities. During the course of his long career, he has won national and regional awards for his editorial photographs, and in 2002, he garnered international attention with Heroines, his black-and-white images of drug-addicted women in the DTES. He has also focused his camera lens on antiwar protesters, urban bicyclists, festival celebrants, and wealthy women shopping on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles.
In 2011, he shot derelict buildings in the decaying city of Detroit. (A portfolio of the Detroit images is available for viewing at Initial Gallery, upon request.) One of the most striking of these is Pawn Shopper, which shows a woman in rolled jeans and high heels walking past an old building, which is brightly and hugely painted with exclamatory signage: “SAM’S LOANS SINCE 1920” and “NEED MONEY? SEE SAM!” A close look at this scene reveals a smaller and more discreet sign, posted above the others: “PAWN LICENSE FOR SALE”. It’s an obvious image, perhaps, but also a succinct marker of the decline of the American empire and the corruption of the American dream.
Subjects here include business-suited young blokes drinking and kibitzing outside a pub; two middle-aged, morbidly obese, and dumbfounded-looking women sitting in a laundromat (a bit Diane Arbus-y); a couple of teenage girls posing in a mall, holding Victoria’s Secret bags and drinking smoothies; and a young woman, dressed like Frida Kahlo, standing on the steps of a London monument, smoking and looking at her iPhone.
Other images here show men and women so immersed in their smartphones that they patently ignore their friends and lovers, a common enough sight in the early 21st century but still, somehow, dismaying.
On the one hand, these ubiquitous digital devices have vastly expanded the photographic record of everyday existence—in a mind-numbing, culture-altering way. On the other hand, put your phones down, people, and look at each other!
In their statement for a street-photography exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver last fall, curators Julie Lee and Katie Huisman described Clarkes’s candid images as “romantic”. And yes, his vision is, on the whole, wide-eyed, affectionate, and curious, focused on the young and beautiful even as it seeks out occasional aspects of dereliction and loneliness.
Like I said, glitty.