Reviewed by John Houck
Grade school wasn’t the most engaging experience. Toward the tail of each school day, I stared intently at the clock, elbows bent, back crooked. My utter fixation on that wall-mounted timepiece might have hung on the edges of the spectrum for autism. Obsessive, but also a pleasurable phenomenological experience. As I stared at the black helvetica numbers and tick marks on the face of the clock, the black would suddenly shift to a dark maroon, navy blue, burnt umber. This self-imposed retinal fatigue was more interesting than long division.
In spending time with Vera Lutter’s new book published by Hatje Cantz, I experienced a similar kind of retinal fatigue. The English text in the book is typeset in cerulean blue and the French in black, accompanied exclusively by black-and-white photographs. Much like the public school clock, the blue English text in the book shifts in value as it is read, at least, if you concentrate on it long enough.
The book features four thorough essays, all of which in their first paragraph talk about Lutter’s process and her use of the camera obscura, jumping straight into gee-whiz technical details. Such as, the three months of exposure time Lutter needs to make a single photograph. In contrast, the included essay by Douglas Crimp begins by describing One Day, 2011, Lutter’s foray into video-sound installation: a twenty-four hour static shot of a field coupled with the songs of nightingales. Crimp’s thoughtful analysis of Lutter’s video asks the question: what is our experience of time before a long, meditative video with almost nothing taking place? The answer is something like, the long, temporal spaces between subtle events in the video tenderizes us to the slowness of time passing. He makes poignant comparisons with his own experience of watching a cinematic screening of Warhol’s eight hour long, Empire, 1964, then time from Lutter’s perspective as a photographer and our experience of her work.
This book, like Lutter’s work, requires a long exposure. Hours of it open next to a coffee mug every morning, hauled around in a canvas bag, quickly flipped through in the studio, and sometimes a single page studied at length, the spine cracked open at the same spot for days, until the cerulean blue magically turns. Through a determined engagement with the essays and her photographs, a space of projection opens up for the viewer. For me that space begins with chromatic projection, and extends far beyond the fatigue of a long day at school.
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Douglas Crimp, Gertrud Koch, and Vera Lutter, Vera Lutter, (Hatje Kantz, 2012)
Images: interior images from Vera Lutter