THE DAILY PIC: I’m using this little GIF animation to give the feel of a new series of photos (of a sort) by Willy Le Maitre, now on view in his impressive show at Canada gallery in New York. The pictures are “lenticular’”, meaning that they deploy a primitive 3-D technology that, for decades, has used a textured plastic sheet to give two slightly different views of the same object as you pass in front of the picture. (Somewhere, I’ve kept the lenticular image of Batman that I found in a Cracker Jack box when I was 8. In some other corner, I’ve got a box of matches that a brother-in-law gave me when I was 14, featuring a lenticular image of a topless girl with, shall we say, notably three-dimensional breasts.) Le Maitre’s images are also 3-D, or maybe we need to think of them as six-dimensional. What he’s done is take two utterly different 3-D pictures, and somehow collapse them together onto a single lenticular sheet – like a photographic diptych that has happens to have lost its “dip-“.
When you pass in front of a Le Maitre print, you see one world full of depth collapse and meld into a very different one – a street artist picking up a collapsed easel seems, as you sidle by, to be eyeing two women tanning on a beach, or a man in a store becomes an owl in the woods.
At very first, Le Maitre’s pieces risk feeling like a technophilic gimmick, but even a moment’s thought shows how much deeper they are than that.
Le Maitre’s apparently static lenticulars invite us to think in terms of time and narrative, as we watch one moment merge into another and wonder what happened in between. Or they are about the disappearance of distance, combining two places – in one work, a street in Mexico and a street near City Hall in New York – and asking us to join them in making the jump. In many or most of the works, Le Maitre has chosen two images that have formal echoes - a lamp post rhyming with a beach umbrella, two hairdressers inside with two bushes outside – but because of the way his two worlds meet, we always read those “syntactic” echoes on the surface as real, meaningful, “semantic’ links between the scenes that we see.
These works seem to defeat vision, in their refusal to resolve into a single reality, even as they seem to give our eyes more to look at than any other pictures. They are classic street photos, in the Cartier-Bresson mode, except that they capture the way that a truly decisive moment is always evanescent, and can’t be captured in the tidy package of a standard still photo.
Cubism tried to capture the world’s indeterminacy, but always ended up with a nice, docile picture that our eyes could parse and pick apart. Le Maitre’s images remain truly indeterminate. (Image courtesy Willy Le Maitre)