There were plenty of people inside the Julie Saul Gallery on a recent Saturday afternoon, but the atmosphere was subdued. Perhaps it was out of solidarity with the photographs from Bill Jacobson’s new body of work, figure, ground, seven of which were on view through May 28. You could almost hear the grass (or snow) crunch beneath the feet of his subjects. A mix of genders and ages, Jacobson’s subjects are all photographed with their backs to the camera, gazing into the distance. As a viewer, standing behind them creates a sense of apprehension, a familiar feeling for anyone who has ever caught another person during a moment of reflection. Do you spoil that quiet moment? Ask what they’re thinking about?
Jacobson invites you to do so. In previous works, he played with focus and framing to provide a seductive entrance into his work. But in figure, ground the subjects, shot with an 8×10 analog camera, are so tack-sharp they almost jump out of their frames. Their body language is relaxed, their environments familiar enough that a viewer can imagine himself in these worlds, standing by these people. But isolated as they are, they evoke a sense of melancholy.
Three new works from the series Lines in My Eyes are also on view. These photographs are a bit more direct. Tightly cropped to show a portion of a naked figure – a shoulder, a neck and chest – shot on neutral backgrounds, these figures become the landscape: bones become focal points, and rounded flesh feels expansive.
It is tempting to invent moments and create conversations when looking at Jacobson’s subjects in figure, ground. As they gaze outward, the landscape quickly becomes softer. Jacobson’s subjects might be looking outwards, but, by keeping the focus on his human subjects, he also invites the viewer to keep them company, to acknowledge that contemplation isn’t necessarily a lonely endeavor.