Better known in Europe than in this country, London-based photographer Craigie Horsfield has been making large-scale, tenebrous images of quotidian subjects-ordinary people, street scenes and age—patinaed, man-made objects—since the 1970s. He often waits years before printing a negative and never prints the same negative more than once. Each photograph is unique and-by virtue of its size and luxuriant, light-swallowing surface-insistently physical.
In the last few years, Horsfield has further emphasized the object-ness of his works by reproducing his images first as inkjet prints on textured drawing paper and, more recently, as wall hangings machine-woven at a tapestry mill in Belgium. This show, Horsfield’s first solo exhibition in New York since 1996, presented two enormous photo-tapestries (both 2010).
Each nearly 13 feet high and 36 feet long, the tapestries were based on black-and-white panoramic photographs of the Moscow Circus performing in Barcelona in 1996. In one, two elephants, ridden by scantily costumed young women, balance on their front legs on tiny stools. Ranked on either side of the stage, the rest of the troupe waits for their turn to perform. In the other, a tiger in a wheeled cage is surrounded by a small flurry of activity as a new performance begins.
Vastly enlarged from the original photographs, and broken down into tiny, irregular patches of black, white and gray, the woven images are as diffuse as charcoal drawings. Along their peripheries, dark-toned flecks coalesce into shadowy masses scattered with pinpoints and splashes of pearl gray where a spangled costume or a shirtfront has caught the light. At the centers of the compositions are drifts and sprays of white motes where the floodlights wash over the bars of the tiger’s cage and its striped fur, the gaily painted floor of the circus ring and the wrinkled skin of the elephants.
The exhibition also included four medium-size prints made from negatives dating from the 1970s to now. In UI. Mazowiecka 131, Krakow. July 1973, 2000, an image of the lid of a battered tin box (which at one time held hypodermic needles) fills the entire frame. Elsewhere, a photograph of a somber couple seated at a café table looks as though it was taken in the 1930s rather than in 1996. In counterpoint to their glumness, a curly-haired young man, who resembles Caravaggio’s portrait of himself as Bacchus, grins cheerfully out of a nearby picture dated 2008.
Like the circus tapestries, these last two images arose out of Horsfield’s “social projects”-in-depth portraits of cities and communities in film, photographs and sound-which have occupied him since the early 1990s. In the artist’s pictures of drinkers and dancers, crowded train stations and barren landscapes, clouds and nudes, fish and cabbages, concerts and circuses, the grand theme of modern European society is humanized by the photographer’s intimate relationship with his subjects. His delayed, one-of-a-kind images, ever strange and singular, seem even more so now, in the age of the picture as nonphysical data, instantaneously uploaded.
Photo: View of Craigie Horsfield’s Circus, Plaça de Torros La Monumental, Gran Via de les Cortes Catalanes, Barcelona, February 1996 (Elephants), 2010, wool, cotton and synthetic yarn, approx. 13 by 36 feet; at Marvelli.