Giving up the notion of the photograph as fact can free you up to use photographs to tell a different kind of truth. In Hesitating Beauty, his intimate exhibition at Clampart through May 18, Joshua Lutz has assembled photographs – his own and old family photos – letters and other documents to try to get at his experience of his mother’s schizophrenia. (His haunting book of the same name was published in 2012 by Schilt.)
Lutz’s photographs move in and out of clarity, from representational photographs to abstract images, from concrete pictures of his mother in the hospital to allusive photographs like Praying for the Mantis, in which a sun-dappled spider web has trapped a Praying Mantis. The web, whose occupant lies in wait, is suspended like a veil over the view of a suburban street, with trees and well-tended lawns. The scene is simultaneously treacherous and lovely.
The narrative Lutz creates is undependable and deeply disconcerting, a complicated portrait of his lived reality growing up with a mentally ill parent. Lutz has written about “resting in a place of uncertainty” in Hesitating Beauty: “There is not a declarative bone in my body that knows where the truth lies when it comes to understanding my mother’s illness and its rippling effect on my family.” These photographs defy understanding, but the sense of confusion they create is not a failure on the part of the photographer but his intention.