You really have to see this show
. The premise is simple: Margot Quan Knight made a portrait of her childhood home by taking photographs of the photographs that hang in it. Each photograph, framed and mounted behind glass, throws back a view of the room it's in—or what's out the window across from it. Anything illuminated becomes wrapped up in the shot. It becomes hard to differentiate the original photograph from the overlay of the environment it's reflecting.
Two landscape photographs by the artist Joel Sternfeld, collected by Knight's parents and hung on the walls in what appears to be a common room (maybe a dining room), are seen/obscured in a multiplicity of views. In Joel, 1978, Mist, the glass over the Sternfeld photograph reflects and takes up the image of two chairs at a table, a windowsill, and a naked dogwood tree on a misty winter's day outside. Sternfeld's landscape also is misty, so the mist in his 1978 photograph and the mist of Knight's 2010 photograph hang together, across time and across a layer of remove—one mist is "real" in the photograph, the other just a memory captured in a photograph. Knight's image is a Russian doll of representation. Your presence as the viewer adds another layer: Knight has printed her images very matte, on thick four-ply matte board, but she has framed them behind highly reflective glass, so you can't escape becoming part of what you're looking at as you're looking at it in the gallery. You're not just a tourist in her home, you're almost a guest who might knock something over—or see something you shouldn't, something a tiny bit too personal.
- Joel, 1978, Salt and Pepper
The way you know that the tree is a dogwood is that another photograph of the same Sternfeld, taken from the same angle, reveals the tree outside in bloom rather than in winter, and the photograph is called Joel, 1978, Pink Dogwood
. A third image featuring that same Sternfeld reflects the same window, but with the blinds drawn. Green-headed salt and pepper shakers, a bubble-shaped chandelier, and two sets of glass candlesticks, are thrown into relief in this version of the scene—they were there all along, but never came to the fore in all the layering. Now, when you return to the other images, you notice them buried there. Still a fourth version of the Sternfeld depicts it reflecting another Sternfeld on a nearby wall in the same room (Joel 1978, Joel 1979
- Linda, 1975, Double Bureau
Not all the photographs are fine artworks in common rooms, meant to be viewed by people outside the family, or contemplated as art. Knight's vision is that photography comes in all types, and she has no interest in ranking them, only exploring the effects they have on us and the ways we use and need them. In Linda, 1975, Double Bureau
, it's hard to make out the photograph on the wall but you can clearly see a bureau and the corner of another table cluttered with a jewelry box and trinkets and a small photograph in a heart-shaped frame, above which are a large mirror and several framed photographs on the wall. This looks like the bedroom of a woman, but not a young woman. The creased-shade wall lamp throwing its yellow light over everything is reflected not once but twice—both in the picture Knight is taking and again in a picture that hangs on the wall behind it. Who is Linda? It's difficult even to see her outline in the picture that all this is being reflected in.
In Knight's 2008 solo debut at James Harris, her experiments in photography, mirroring, reflection, and time felt both more academic (neat-o!, said your brain) and more sentimental (featuring old ladies and babies in states of going and coming). But this new series wants the same thing: To make a photograph that is unfinished. What's unfinished can't ever quite die. It can, though, rest.