I want to tell you my story and how this project came to be, but I’m not even sure if my memory of the year in the pandemic is actually what occurred, or just what it felt like. My story isn’t special or unique, in fact it’s very common and yet mostly goes untold. Specifically, this is the story of a parent giving up their career, their purpose, their passion, in order to prioritize the care of their child as the main caregiver. It’s a story that I realize is common for most mothers around the world, both pre-pandemic, and in even higher numbers during the pandemic.
I began to question my identity, my achievements, and the future of my career as an artist and creative advisor. “Would I have a career again or is parenting my new purpose?” Eventually I had to surrender fully, I had to yield, I had to give in and give up, at least temporarily, in order to care for my son properly.
I turned to my camera once again to help guide me through, or out of, this challenging phase. I began photographing whatever I could find that sparked any bit of visual interest. Whether it was a plant, the curtains, or a shadow — it was an exploration to discover intimate beauty and a sense of spirit where there seemingly was nothing.
Maybe this exhibition signifies that I didn’t give anything up after all, but just took a pause or yielded like water around a rock? These images are gifts of light from a dark year - little intimate moments of triumph.
It’s nothing big, it’s just a thought.
Wyatt Gallery - Artist & Father
I was chatting with my friend Wyatt, talking about the trials and tribulations of the pandemic and the year spent in quarantine, about the difficulties we both had at the outset of the year, especially as it dawned on us that this was not going to be a short-lived thing.
For each of us, the year was filled with introspection, with some anxieties, some boredom, but also a sense of gratitude for life, for family, for the creative spirit and for me a quietude that let me concentrate on projects. It had been rough at times, but we each got through it.
Wyatt then showed me some photographs—the photographs you see here.
I was so happy, partly because I could sense his happiness in showing them and partly because I could sense my own happiness in looking at this work. During the year just passed, when travel had ceased and jobs were uncertain, when there were waves of fear and anxiety rippling all around us, I became attuned to these sometimes-subtle emotional shifts in family and friends.
Reading his energy as he spoke and showed me the work, through FaceTime—me in Manhattan and he in Trinidad—I could tell that he had tapped into a deep reserve of hope, resilience, and creativity during a fraught time; he had accessed a spiritual dimension of himself in a very conscious way and through that effort produced something beautiful, and innocent, and also pleasing to himself. This in and of itself was a victory and I was happy to share that with him.
The photographs that he produced—the ones you’re looking at now—are reminiscent of the Polaroid SX70 prints of his and my youth. There is a twinge of nostalgia to the works, but mostly there is an understated elegance that borders on casualness that makes them look easy and simple. And in many ways they are.
Simplicity, as we know, is not a hallmark of the ‘throwaway.’ In fact, much of 20th century art has been along a trajectory that actively worked to reduce the over-complicatedness of images. This trajectory began with the Impressionists and led to the Modernism of the 20s and 30s, which was essentially reductionist in nature. Those artists acted with a view to wiping the slate clean so to speak, making way for new expressions, ideals, and visual language to take root.
Following WWII, the raw gesturalism of the AbEx generation was followed by a fixation on materiality and a further reduction of complexity in favor of a minimal amount of ingredients and the most fundamental of ideas.
Photographers throughout the century were both protagonists and antagonists to their fellow artists in other mediums. While most image-making is an additive process—you start with nothing, a blank canvas, and add things until you have an image you like—photography is basically subtractive. The view through the camera limits what is seen, and where you direct your gaze is more a choice of ‘this’ over ‘that’, as seen from ‘here’ not ‘there.’
Wyatt’s images utilize the language of simplicity as honed and refined by many mid to late 20th century artists, photographers included. Walker Evans, after decades exploring the complex undercurrents of the social lives of Americans, created a refreshingly simple body of work with a Polaroid SX70 camera. His Polaroids were of the same subject matter as his previous oeuvre—straightforward portraits of friends, of road signs and wry segments of billboards, of faded street markings and sides of buildings—but distilled down to a plain old square.
Operating in the decades before Evans came to prominence was Imogen Cunningham, the Bay Area luminary who rivaled Weston and Adams for her elegance in gelatin silver prints, though uniquely feminine in her approach to similar subject matter—the pistils and stamens of her flowers seemed to give rise to the joy she saw in her boys playing in the backyard.
While under house-arrest (which is basically what we all endured during 2020) Wyatt’s life, like ours, was limited to a more finite set of things than normal. For an artist who has always had a bit of wander-lust, this must have felt particularly restrictive. And yet, for anyone who has followed a spiritual practice, restrictions are often the keys to unlocking profundity.
There is also a refreshing mixture of the masculine and the feminine in this work, as though Wyatt were the artistic child of Cunningham and Evans. Part of this is due to a cultivated empathy that he has nurtured in his own character. He is a seeker and a listener. But the other part of this surprising mixture of energies in his work can only be attributed to the presence of his son, Kairi, and his own efforts in parenting. During the pandemic, Wyatt found himself in the position of primary caregiver while his wife worked. Mixing his creative energy with parenting, his outings to photograph with exploratory playtime with Kairi, had a profound effect on his work.
The images in this show move back and forth among pared-down abstraction, to snippets of island life and street scenes, to a kind of simple still-life, all mixed with portraits of Kairi as he learns of the world from his father’s side. The works are feather light, floating and wafting down from a sky of possibilities. They are playful and profound all at once, and leave the palette of the eye refreshed and ready for more
They are simple and fleeting. It’s just a thought, but perhaps the joys of looking and loving mixed with a gentle curiosity are what we all need to take away from this past year.
Thank you, Wyatt.
Darius Himes - International Head of Photographs, Christie’s