David Hilliard: The Tale is True

BY Edie Bresler, May 31, 2013

David Hilliard, Ebb. Courtesy Carroll and Sons

Raymond Chandler once remarked, “Fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic.” Photographer David Hilliard artfully weaves together compelling narratives by altering focus and perspective in a multi-paneled format that unfolds like a short story and feels utterly true. Earlier work examined his own familial relationships, especially with his father, so it is fitting that this show at Carroll and Sons, documented another father and son, who share a weathered seaside home in Provincetown. 

David Hilliard, Wiser Than Despair. Courtesy Carroll and Sons

Surrounded by water and light, these two are steeped in a Yankee spirit of frugality that is both comfort and albatross. Peeling wallpaper, musty old books and statuettes of silent, ancient mariners are buoyed by paintings of heroic schooners and windows filled with bright sunshine. The struggle between intransigence and determination suffuses all ten pieces. In the four-paneled Wiser than Despair, father and son inhabit separate frames even though they occupy the same table. Reading from a dictionary, the father is adjacent to the son, who flips through the pages of a worn book. Behind them two windows bleached by sunlight offer a stark contrast to their stilted pursuits. In the three-paneled Ebb, the son wades deeply into the center panel of an ocean panorama. A tattoo just below his neck of three fish swimming in a circle makes a distinctive focal point against the heavy fog hanging on the horizon. Although he and the fish appear poised to dive into the water, the way his left hand timidly pushes at the water’s surface suggests otherwise. A skilled storyteller, Hilliard manages to wring compassion for this seaside pair and their crumbling abode.