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Creative Research Lab

FEVER - July 2005

photo by Woody

David Woody
Pflugerville, TX, 2005
26" h x 33" w

Catalog Essay by Caitlin W. Haskell:

Admittedly, I am a newcomer to Dave Woody's photography. Though I have looked at his images for some weeks now, the newcomer's condition, expectant but uncertain before foreign circumstances, persists. Being a newcomer, however, is not necessarily disadvantageous where Woody's photography is concerned. Like his viewer, Woody is often a newcomer to the scene he records. Feeling as newcomers often do, Woody's viewer must dwell in a certain period of ambiguity that overrides the urge to offer too-firm a reading of his work. He invites the second guess. He encourages the self-audit, asking us to wonder if perhaps things arenít actually the way we have established them.

Utilizing a process somewhat like a journalist covering his beat, Woody uncovers the familiar characters who inhabit our surroundings, but with whom we rarely become acquainted. His casting call specifies scenes and people of visual interest, but has no further social or political agenda. Street ball players are just as likely subjects as CEO's. More explicit criteria would cast an unnecessarily narrow net for Woody's photographic trawl. As such, his subjects are the people who cross his path on days when he carries his large-scale camera with him. The people depicted are those willing to delay their trajectory for five minutes as Woody rigs his tripod, mounts a camera the size of a countertop TV atop it, and drops his head beneath the black cloth

Considered within the most rigid genre conventions, Woody's body of work consists of portraits and landscapes. None of his images, however, are portraits in the traditional sense of the genre. Neither are they landscapes. These strict types blend in his pieces as relationships develop between figures and their environment. Portraits are not just of one person, compositionally centered and shown in half or three-quarter's length. Landscapes are not open vistas clearly transitioning from delineated foreground to far-away distance. The forms blend - one feeds the other - as landscapes become about the people inhabiting them and portraits become about the environment the figures live in.

The three photographs that Woody shows in Fever illustrate the artist's interest in the rapport between figure and environment. Within his three photographs the relationship between human figures and their environment acts as a fulcrum that the photographer must balance. Across the three works there is a sense of steady figural decrease and atmospheric increase. The correspondence between the prominence of the figures and the landscape seems inversely proportional. We move from an image where a group portrait takes center stage, to a prominent landscape in which the few figures depicted are immaterial to the scene.

Woody's dockside photograph reads as a confused family portrait. Though the dock and the accoutrements of fishing help place the scene, they are akin to a backdrop. The lakeside environment provides a space where we can consider a child's gesture, touching his brother's chair (if I may insinuate this familial relationship), and where we may take note of the complicated skin tones of elder and younger generations. The emphasis on figures reaches its perigee in the parking lot. Here, figures inhabit only the periphery of the blazing scene. Ten anonymous souls seem tiny as they circle through a safely-distant space. Far from the fiery car, it seems that loading groceries into a road-ready SUV is their only concern. Between these two extremes, the family (or are they just friends?) in the field of blue bonnets become a middle ground. Figuring themselves in their environment, they take their own picture as Woody takes theirs. For Woody, the environment in this image acts as prominently as the figures. One would imagine, however, that the photograph resulting from the internal shoot will shift the balance more emphatically on the people.

Woody's figures are not only found within an environment, their presence contributes to the environment. His figures help build the place where they are, imparting their own qualities on the scene that surrounds them. As such, a web of relationships begins to take shape: figure to figure, figures to photographer, figures pictured to their beholder. As newcomers looking for our bearings, turning to these relationships is often the surest place to start.