Jill Thayer Galleries

Harry Wilson’s photographs document his personal response to travels in Europe, China and Latin America in unique ways.  The twenty-four photographs displayed at Jill Thayer Galleries at The Fox from May 16 to June 15 comprise two bodies of work, which are connected by the theme of the socially concerned and visually intelligent.


The smaller images present the mnemonic detritus of a trip.  Vignettes such as posters on a Baroque building in Amsterdam, and a charming sign in Barcelona remind us of the unique personal visual experiences we remember of ventures from home, providing one does not depend on American Express to arrange ones travel.  At times, as with his view of a clothesline in Zadar, suspended on a Nineteenth Century building abutting the Roman Forum, recent history had changed the mundane into a new metaphor of the human instinct for survival.  One senses that it is still there, although its surroundings may not be quite the same.  These images are quiet and reflective.


The most fascinating body of Wilson’s photographs are large double-exposures which present unique and spontaneous records of conditions in the countries he has visited, often creating fascinating juxtapositions illustrating the local historical and cultural continuum.  The result is a new and poetic kind of documentary, the more compelling because its creation is partially conditioned by chance.  Many have a powerful socio-critical message, such as the remains of Managua’s cathedral (bombed under Somoza) with its lonely survivor, a statue of the Virgin, over which appears a revolutionary mural from the Ortega years.  Another superimposes Castro and the equestrian monument of a previous (and unknown) jefe, creating a subtle message of the transience of the cult of the personality of the ruler.  Some of Wilson’s most recent double-exposures focus on Eastern Europe, subtly presenting the diverse traditions and historical experiences, which have made the history of that region so tragic.  A number focus on Nazi death camps: particularly effective is the superimposition of a prisoner’s uniform and a guard tower.  The images of his 1994 trip to Spain and Portugal are distant views of a street in “Day and Night Avila and Segovia” and the Roman aqueduct at Segovia, both peopled with small groups of approximately the same scale, creates a de Chirico-like disjuncture of the space-time continuum.

Shelley Stone,
Professor of Art, California State University Bakersfield