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Art & artists

John Stezaker: intriguing images prepared with skill

— January 2015

Article read level: Art lover

Associated media

John Stezaker, Crossing Over (Resurrection) II, 2012. Image fragment 3.5x6.1cm © John Stezaker, courtesy The Approach, London and Capitain Petzel, Berlin. NB All images occupy a very small part of the page area

Stezaker’s new book is a work of art in its own right

Crossing Over by John Stezaker

In an earlier review  for Cassone I referred to John Stezaker as the Alfred Hitchcock of the photographic still image. This new collection reinforces that observation.

Crossing Over includes 65 images in both black and white and colour from 2005 to 2013, and the artist continues to draw selectively upon postcard imagery. The resulting work is very different in both scale and approach from his trademark collaged postcards and found film publicity images with which his admirers are most familiar.

In this collection, which follows from the ‘3rd Person Archive’ series, Stezaker isolates a small selected area of a postcard. He cuts out his selection and leaves it as an actual size cameo on the expanse of white paper that is the page of the book. This means that Crossing Over is not simply a collection of images but an artist’s book in its own right. There is no text, apart from the title and picture credits at the end.

Nothing gets in the way of deep looking at the images. Thus the turning of the pages back and forth becomes a real pleasure and adds to the feeling of return and crossing over, as in the title.  Unlike the traditional small-scale cameo images of history, which look inwards, these are as much about the empty white space around them into which viewers can project their own thoughts about what is going on outside the Stezaker selection, and draws sharp attention to the absence of the de-selected area of the postcard. This has echoes of the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and subsequent long queues to view the empty space.

In this way, Crossing Over is almost the reverse of many among his ‘Tabula Rasa’ series, where the blank space exists within a photographic image as opposed to surrounding it, although Stezaker has always given particular attention to the white space surrounding or intersecting the image. It is part of the image.

As ever, Stezaker’s eye and hand do their work with consummate skill, from selection to cut. Each page of the book has the small image fragment centred within the white space of the page and encourages the use of a magnifier to examine the detail of these intriguing images. Little clues sometimes exist that show the location of some of the selections within its original postcard. The hint of a frayed corner or perforated edge adds to the mystery of where the image has come from and where it might be going.

But there is so much more. The selections are deeply evocative and traditionally surreal, with figures, mostly female, gazing, or frozen in movement, ready to glide out of the frame. Deep shadows abound which are so reminiscent of early-20th-century Giorgio de Chirico  or Salvador Dali and the films of Buñuel,  or  Alain Renais’s Last Year in Marienbad.

The selections are mostly from a high viewpoint, which adds to the sense of surveillance and somehow links the present use of the drone to that of the hot-air balloon by photographer Nadar,  150 years earlier in Paris, and which had such an impact on artists of the time.

One of the joys of all Stezaker publications is the sheer quality of the reproduction of the photographic imagery, which adds to the sense that one is buying not just a book of work, but an artwork.

I wonder if a future publication will include all the discarded postcards with their missing pieces – where are they and what stories would they tell?

Crossing Overis an intriguing and beautiful book.

Crossing Over  by John Stezaker is published by Ridinghouse, 2015. 144 pp., 65 colour illus, £24.95 (hbk). ISBN: 978 1 905464 89 0


Howard Hollands
Middlesex University, UK.
Art historian, artist and teacher

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