24 July 2010

"Forester's Child, 1931" by August Sander, in "Children of Summer," at Bell

On page 14 in the July 26 issue, The New Yorker runs a darker, browner version of this photograph by August Sander. I'd never seen it before. I find it enchanting, magical even. It points at something I've been mulling about recently--what, truly, are the most compelling photographs about?

This one is, at first level, about the child, the bike, the dog, the hut, and the empty fields and treeline in the background. It's also about Sander, and his typological project; we imagine his checklist of German faces getting one item shorter as we read the caption.

But when I see this photograph, this ink image on paper and its digital corollary on screen, what occurs to me is that it is about balance. It's about the effort to get this child fixed on the crossbar, holding on to the handlebars just so, about placing the dog to obscure a kickstand or other device holding this bicycle upright. Maybe the dog is the device.

Regardless, what I see in this picture, made the year my father was born, is composition, the net effect of all the factors that contribute to its presence. The child's face is dead center in the frame, while the father's occupation, the forest, looms in the background while his best friend's two front paws hold it all erect. Sunlight and relatively shallow depth of field kept the exposure mercifully short; could child, dog, and bicycle have remained still much longer?

Hence, balance is what I see here. Balance, composition, composure, exposure. And a miracle of light that brings the child to us, fresh and amazing.

The group exhibition at Deborah Bell Photographs, on West 25th in Chelsea, runs into August. Link for more info.