Julia Creet talks with and writes about Dan Larkin as part of our ongoing series “Critics Choice.”
Dan Larkin, Blue Window Shade, 2007
The Luminosity of Ordinary Things
by Julia Creet
“It took me two years to notice it,” said Dan Larkin, “even though I walked by it twice a week to do my laundry.” A door with a pull-down shade on the way to the basement that looks like a portal to heaven, not quite perfect, no-longer-used curtain-rod brackets, a battered knob, a door whose mystery should not be exited. Larkin is attracted by the luminosity of ordinary things, the contrast of primary colours, colour that reads as if black and white, duotones, contrast and clean lines.
Larkin’s images evince his eternal present, his nostalgia for the places where he grew up in that wistful decade between 1950 and 1960, still-lifes found and made, simplicity as a carefully crafted illusion. The coffee cup on the red table took forty setups to find that obscure angle; the cornbread crumbs on the old yellow plates never quite right. But the luminosity through the blue blind was an exercise in patience, waiting to capture the light as it crossed behind the window. It is a door he only opens a couple of times a year, a door that does not really function as a door, but a potential.
Larkin, in this series, set a condition of technical constraints that, like the content, harken back to an age of photography before digital manipulation. The production of the work is itself nostalgic, shot on Hasselblad 120 film in a square format, with minimal cropping. Counselor’s Room was in a boy-scout camp in Prince Edward Island, one of a series of photographs shot in empty cottages. The stark simplicity of the images, so familiar, yet so foreign, embody the ritual aspect of working with the camera: framing by square format, low light conditions, slow exposures (Blue Window Shade is a 8-9 second exposure), the isolation of details made remarkable for their symbolism of an outdated time. These are dream images capturing an idea or a colour that bring a lost childhood back to life for all-too-short a time, when mourning is temporarily replaced by having and seeing once again. A timeless space that still exists, but sweet and wry, melancholic with a sense of humour.
Larkin’s work in this series is largely intuitive, he tells me. Only after he has taken a photograph does he try and understand what it means to him. In this sense, he is very much like us, absorbing the image for the first time or again and again. The blue shade came with the house, bought from friends, passed by unnoticed and then one day . . .
Every image suggests a larger space, the outside of the image, focal points that pull you in only to lead you away to another time and place. Photographs of a melancholic smile.
Julia Creet teaches in the Department of English at York University. Her creative and research projects focus on private and public memory. She has directed a documentary, “MUM,” has edited a collection of essays, Memory and Migration (UTP Press, 2010), and is currently completing a work of literary nonfiction based on the memoirs of a holocaust survivor who tried to forget.
See more work by Dan Larkin:
Dan Larkin, Counselor's Room, 2007
Dan Larkin, Red Table, 2007
Dan Larkin, Nail Clippings, 2007