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CoincidencesReview - Coincidences
by Sarah Moon
Arena Editions, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Feb 4th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 6)

This is a large book, both in the size and number of the pages; at nearly 300, it is has many more photographs than most collections of the work of individual photographers.  Most are monochrome, with a subdued hint of dark brown.  The grain of the photographs seems coarse, and rarely do the people, animals, or objects depicted seem to be in sharp focus.  In many, the photographer has deliberately distorted or processed the image; some have two photographs put together into one, and in others imperfections are introduced in the development process; the edges of the photographers are often exposed, showing the very edge of where light hit the original negative; in some we see small bubbles, brush strokes, or other irregularities which photographers make sure that their viewers never see. 

            Some of this playing with the form of the photograph, letting chance imperfections enter into the finished product, serve as examples of the coincidences of the book’s title.  The form and the content of the pictures come together to produce a single finished product.  It is very likely that the photographer experimented with the negatives in many ways, and selected those pictures that she felt worked best, the happy coincidences.  Looking at individual pictures from the book, one may not be at all sure what she is aiming at, but seeing the collection as a whole, the mood is somber, playful, and a little pretentious.  Certain themes emerge; she seems fascinated by formal, geometrical qualities of images; the abstraction of circles and lines dominates many of the pictures; she also seems to love random intricate detail – the twigs of a tree in winter, or the blossoms of a tree in the spring, patterns of sunlight falling on the ground through the leaves of trees, a field full of wild blossoming flowers, the “eyes” on a peacock’s fanned out tail, the ripples of the sea in a cove, or the patterned imperfections she herself introduces into her pictures.

            The images are lonely too; people appear on their own, even in those images where they appear twice, in a double exposure.  Rarely does she have people looking into the lens; more often they are facing away, their face is not included in the picture, their eyes are closed or their eyes are deliberately removed from the image through the introduction of an imperfection.  The picture with the most faces is one of dead fish lined up in two rows – more geometry there.  Because of the imperfections and the dark sepia tone, even those images where a person looks open-eyed into the camera seem to be from a different age, bringing to mind the possibility that the person is no longer living.  Indeed, many of the animals she has photographed must indeed have been dead, perhaps rented from a taxidermist. 

            I should perhaps mention that Moon’s photographs are wonderfully beautiful.  The imperfections if anything enhance the beauty, heightening the sense of formal composition, reducing the immediacy of the people, animals or objects depicted, and drawing attention to how they are represented in a two dimensional field.  (For me, they bring to mind the music of the band Portishead, who also intentionally introduce imperfections to their recordings, taking special effort to mimic the effect of scratchy vinyl behind the precision and power of their soulful gothic dub.)

            One might question how innovative Moon’s approach is; one can see echoes of photographic experimentation by earlier masters of the medium, and I am curious to what extent Moon does this consciously.  But she has her won, self-assured approach that makes these pictures interesting on their own, and there’s no reason to dismiss her work as derivative. 

            A middle section of the book contains a different body of work of color photographs.  These are rather different in style, full of saturated reds, yellows, and greens.  They feature many more humans, often female models dressed up in extravagant costumes.  Presumably much of the work in this section is more closely connected with Moon’s work as a fashion photographer; she has published in Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and many other well-known magazines.  These pictures are livelier and far more sensuous than the monochrome images, but they still betray a love of geometrical patterns and an involvement in the form of the medium over the content. 

            If there’s any sense of message or meaning in these pictures, and I’m not sure that there is, it must be to do with the fragility of beauty, and the attempt to catch a moment.  In the prevalence of imperfections, and the focus on them, one might even interpret a fascination with decay and death.  Many of the pictures have a surreal quality, and if one were briefly to entertain a psychoanalytic thought, one might guess that Moon is representing a powerful and destructive unconscious force that we can detect at the edges of our experience, threatening to erase the beauty that she finds on the surface. 

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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