This is not food. This is unusable. This is absurd. And these statements aren’t Magritte-like declarations to be made once inside the Louis B. James Gallery for Stephen McClintock’s solo exhibition Hood Pass. These are truths that become self-evident…all things are created in equal strangeness.
As an emerging photographer and filmmaker, McClintock doesn’t yet command the kind of arresting, important imagery produced by photographers such as Philip Lorca DiCorcia, Araki, Eggleston, or Sternfeld. But he makes no sacrifices when it comes to the gritty, close-up nature of his subjects, mostly captured in or around his home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. A young black woman curiously lifts her shirt, exposing her breast, as she floats down the sidewalk on a skateboard. A white pigeon lies dead on the ground, surrounded by an array of spilled candy. These captures, while following in a grand tradition of candid street photography, are not as compelling as his photographs of food. Well, at least, it seems like food. McClintock reappropriates images normally found in supermarkets or bodegas; blaring, almost obscene glimpses of raw meat, fish, vegetables, dairy products, and ice cream. He presents a stunning reminder of just how false and improbable the “freshness” or “attraction” is: ice cream melts after mere seconds, vegetables would wither and rot under studio lights, meat would take on an offensive gleam and, while not perceivable to the viewer, a smell. It is this acumen, this sharpness in vision past the surface of things that makes McClintock stand out among his peers. The food imagery isn’t inviting, but grotesque in its sad reality. The aim to make the food seem more appetizing fails spectacularly, and McClintock doesn’t miss a single moment.
Two diptychs play on each other’s qualities of intense color and intense polarities between social spaces and the pang of isolation. One photograph sits atop its mate: the top shows three wall-mounted telephones on a sickly yellow wall, the bottom shows three decrepit urinals (the far left one bears a sign reading “out of order” with a traffic cone lodged within), with the lens seemingly filtered to match the emerald linoleum tiles on the wall. The second diptych glimmers in ruby red, matching the top of a Marlboro cigarette box on a similarly red couch. The bottom photograph is a simple composition of a vertical split-screen of red tiles and checkered tiles.
There is a solitary sculpture in the exhibition space, close to the front door. It is simply a corrugated cardboard box, acting as a shelter for a collection of religious candles and one overturned, empty bottle of liquor. Downstairs, a video collage reminiscent of the freneticism of Harmony Korine with traces of street videos taken on mobile phones, is projected onto a large wall. A rotund, young black woman shamelessly removes her shirt and eats fried chicken in her living room to the beats of a hip-hop soundtrack. A thin black man seems caught up in a drug-induced trance: his torso continuously swirls around while his legs anchor him in a single place, as he hangs onto a slithery slice of pizza. A cheap blow-up doll is dressed as a policewoman, her plastic breasts exposed as she wanders around the city.
McClintock could be construed as another aimless voyeur, a half-hearted flâneur wielding a camera. In fact, he offers what the exhibition tittle suggests: access, a “pass” into and through his neighborhood where he casts no judgment and no shadow. It is likely that McClintock will continue on in this creative path, and his observations will be most welcome.
Stephen McClintock: Hood Pass opened at Louis B. James Gallery on 31 July and closed on 28 August. www.louisbjames.com