Raymond Meeks is well known for his artist books and limited editions, but Sonder, his show at Casemore Kirkeby, highlighted the photographer’s attention to the materiality of the print.
At the center of the exhibition were two dozen photographs from Meeks’s book Halfstory Halflife, published by Chose Commune and shortlisted for the Paris Photo/Aperture Photobook of the Year Award in 2018. While the printing in the book is stunning – rich blacks and velvety paper – the variety in Meeks’s original prints is a revelation. The five photographs that anchored this installation are silver-halide transparencies mounted on white grounds, a process that renders highlights with uncanny clarity. Meeks also included selenium-toned gelatin-silver prints and subtly colored carbon-pigment prints.
Halfstory Halflife focuses on a swimming hole in rural upstate New York with a high cliff for jumping, which local teenagers do with abandon. The joyful abstractions of Aaron Siskind’s series Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation are possible precedents, but Meeks concentrates instead on hesitation and awkwardness. In charcoal-dark prints, the jumpers are framed by the black of the opposing cliff and the water far below. As they push off from the edge, a slight blur marks the force of their motion. Despite the quiet of the prints, the scenes themselves likely teemed with brassy taunts and competition. But distilled through the eyes of someone older, this youthful tumult becomes solemn; frailty and vulnerability rise to the surface.
The show also included work from other series, including Ciprian Honey Cathedral, Township, and Winter Farm Auction, made during the sale of farm equipment at an Ohio grange. In each body of work, Meeks’s attention to materiality is evident. Risographs on warm-toned paper impart a sense of the antique to the farm auction; thin, brittle paper echoes the frigid air, while gelatin-silver prints emphasize the glinting steel of saws and sickles.
An ambiguous sense of time pervades Meeks’s photographs. Farmlands and swimming holes may seem timeless and quixotic, but Meeks doesn’t relax into romantic clichés. Traces of the present persist, reminders that these young people face a future that is irreversibly different from their grandparents’ experience of rural life.