Elad LassryJanuary 2008
~Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles~
In his confident solo debut, elliptically titled “She Takes These Pictures of His Wife Silhouetted on a Hillside,” young Los Angeles–based artist Elad Lassry subtly intimated an understanding of the differing codes of commercial and fine art photography and played along the complex contours of that border. Most of Lassry’s photographs seem overly familiar—if difficult to place precisely—and in fact several works in the show are found images. In Joanne and Trace, No Distractions, B2 (all works 2007), for example, a double-page spread of a mother and baby from Life magazine from 1970 is silk-screened to obscure the text and simply framed: Rather than rephotographing the image (to raise issues of authorship) or removing the text in Photoshop (to render the image “seamless”), he seems content to present the image mostly as is. The silk-screening transforms the text into colored blocks, and places emphasis on the formal arrangement of the picture: a subject—mother and child—so familiar it is all but emptied of meaning.
The cliché is Lassry’s territory, but his apparent strategy is to defamiliarize it so that one might actually pause to look at a photograph, and digest it, rather than simply absorb it superficially in passing. Lassry treads carefully between the generic (or clichéd, or archetypal) and the specific; he exposes unspoken codes governing the ways in which a photograph is constructed, how a subject is framed, and tweaks it toward overdetermination. Travis Parker, a black-and-white image of a blandly handsome young man in a pith helmet and textured dress shirt, calls to mind Banana Republic’s safari-inflected late- ’80s men’s line—but the midrange tones of the image more closely resemble the gray scale identified with Calvin Klein. It’s posing as a portrait, but it’s hardly revealing: Couldn’t “Travis Parker” be any number of men dressed in this outfit?
The most compelling picture in the show is California King Snake, in which a pair of hands holding the titular reptile is situated diagonally in the upper left half of the image, with dark green foliage as a slightly underexposed, nearly monochromatic blur in the background filling the rest of the frame. A shallow depth of field draws the eye to the near connection of right index finger and left thumb. The hands act as a “pedestal” for the snake as they gently cradle the creature, but provide an inexact scale reference for it, because the hands signify neither male nor female in any obvious sense: The wrists are rather hairy, but the fingers and nails seem long and just slightly thinner than the animal. Of course, there is the potential for biblical allegory here, but given Lassry’s formal preoccupations it would seem reasonable to assume that he is more interested in how one photographs a snake without allegory, or whether this is even possible. Still, the biggest conundrum in the image is the tension between visual and tactile—isn’t a snake always an emblem of tactility?—with our eyes and the hands in the photograph standing in, imperfectly, for our deprived sense of touch.
The most complex work in the show was an untitled, thirteen-minute, twenty-seven-second film, in which Lassry intertwined dueling ideologies of dance—and modernism—by conflating the classical pedagogy of George Balanchine (1904–1983) with the more populist but contemporaneous movement of Doris Humphrey (1895–1958). In the film, a male and female dancer from the Balanchine-derived New York City Ballet perform sequences that seem odd or awkward—though it would surely take a scholar of dance to locate what exactly is “wrong” about them. Here, Lassry locates a historical “fork in the road” to ground his own aesthetic mergers.