New York Arts: Holly Lynton

A version of this essay was published in New York Arts Magazine

The big story is this: 

You have a desire, whether it is something you should have or something you shouldn't.  

You chase your desire, but to attain it, you must overcome who you are; you must either grow past your limitations, or find out what your true limitations are.

When you have overcome—preferably a sin or fault—you are redeemed.

Nowadays, the assumption is, that's narrative.  In fact, it is a western construct, and usually a Christian one.  That stories have beginnings, middles and ends—that stories have sin, redemption, salvation—has very little to do with the stories that we encounter in life.  The epic, winding stories of mythology, the pure suffering of the classical stage: while these narratives are drawn on to bolster the credibility of the contemporary model, they are not indicative of the stories we tell today.  Even in "hard news," one is pressed to find a story that doesn't start with a conflict, and end with a ray of hope.   

In Holly Lynton's series of photographs, "Solid Ground," the narratives are the solitary moments in our lives when we "mark time."  There are instants that are complete, narratives in themselves, when we are suddenly aware of our wholeness, and the transience of wholeness.  That is the epic of living: these moments strung together, hung over the hours like beads from a Christmas tree.  

Dog prints on a rust colored carpet, a child fleeing through the leaves, or drinking from a sprinkler.  A visual story is rich.  Mark, 2005: the grain of the carpet, the inherent timbre of the dog's steps. Supernal, 2004: the wet leaves adhering to wet skin, the lilt of a leg bearing a child's weight.  Plim, 2005: the dimpled knee, the distant dandelion.  

Through the nineteenth century, the English-speaking world abounded with "illustrated newspapers."  Illiterate readers, or marginally literate ones, gleaned complex stories through illustrations.  For all of our cultural visual acumen, we have lost the ability to read stories in images.  To a viewer of Renaissance painting, the story was implicit.  Today, the presumption is that the image will serve a written story; the Pixar movie is a visualization of the word, and has no weight beyond it.  I.e.: the swimming turtle is sad and confused.  

Lynton's assertion: photography, despite all the encroachment of computer graphics and digital film, remains the primary medium of visual storytelling.  In "Solid Ground," the density of theme, of setting, of emotion, is the stuff of great sagas.  Emotional realization—like the end page of a novel—is a fostering of contemplation, even study.  As we drift through the void, wondering where our shining knights and happy endings are hiding, it is that instant in the backyard, with the light dappled on a man's back (Mansuetude, 2004), that brings clarity to our every anxious question.