What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

November 22, 2018

Zoe Leonard
Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles
October 27, 2018 - January 20, 2019

Zoe Leonard, Analogue

In 1980 Sol LeWitt published Autobiography a 126 page artist's book in which each page is a three by three grid of black and white photographs of objects and places that were meaningful to him. The gridded images offer the possibility for nuanced comparisons and the continuous squares create a welcome pattern and are one of the first printed examples to explore of seriality and repetition. Throughout art and photo history other artist have also embraced the grid. While LeWitt's images are uniformly presented, the carefully framed photographs of industrial architecture by Bernd and Hilla Becher are installed in grids of varying sizes. Because the Becher's shot their photographs from the same vantage point and in the same lighting conditions, their grids allow for a particular kind of comparison— one that focuses on the object rather than the surroundings.

To chronicle the changes in her lower east side neighborhood, Zoe Leonard began to make color photographs of the streets, storefronts and windows tracking the areas gentrification and the disappearance of all things non-technological. These casually shot black and white as well as color images are presented in twenty-five distinct grids. Leonard used a square format, vintage Rolleiflex camera shooting film that had to be processed and printed rather than a digital camera. Over time she began to include photographs shot in other locations— Cuba, Africa, Eastern Europe, Mexico and the Middle East— as part of the project. Analogue consists of 412 photographs shot between 1998 and 2009 arranged into grids with differing numbers of individual images. These images are neither titled or dated, allowing for random categorization. The photographs, for the most part are visually organized, creating a portrait of a bygone decade.

Each photograph is purposely devoid of people and shot straight on ensuring that the facade, window display, or storefront is the subject of the image. Leonard captures the anomalies and personality of urban space. Who can not be enamored with hand written signs that don't quite fit or have mis-spellings— they point to something human and not mechanically produced. Grids level hierarchies. They present a range that can be compared and contrasted across rows and columns. Among the 25 grids (Leonard refers to them as chapters) in Analogue are blocks of as little as four and as many as fifty-four photographs. In a grid, individual pictures are seen in context. For example, Chapter 13 presents four photographs of Kodak kiosks, a nod to a pre-digital age, while Chapter 22 focuses on discarded television sets left on tables as well as in a wheelbarrow. The common thread in Chapter 24 is hand-drawn/painted signs whereas Chapter 11 is about what the signs say: "Mr Shoe" in one, "The End is Near!" in another.

Leonard captures both the banal and the exotic in these photographs. Collectively they become a portrait not only of commerce but of people's worldly possessions— ranging from what is no longer needed to what might be purchased. Moving from grid to grid it is possible to isolate individual photographs but that is not the point. The purpose of Analogue is to document a kind of display, a kind of street activity that is uniquely human before it is overshadowed by a more generic quality of signage that is mass produced and digital. It is no wonder that Leonard chose to create Analogue using a film camera, bypassing the immediacy of digital technologies. To view Analogue is to walk through time, visiting a collection of meaningful images that steadfastly call attention to that which is disappearing, or is no more.

Note: On view at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA Art is Zoe Leonard: Survey (November 11, 2018 - March 25, 2019).