The photographer Sheila Metzner, now age 78, is one of those women who has – by refusing to be limited by triviality of circumstances, proven that we all assert our own level of confinement. After all, Metzner often quotes Julia M.Cameron as one of her influences who alongside being a mother of five and a wife in times when women faced cultural inhibitions, was also an eminent Victorian portraitist. And if Metzner herself doesn’t loudly herald for ‘‘can-do-it-all’’ approach, the photographer ‘s lifestyle and achievements most certainly do. Born in Brooklyn in 1939, which at the time surely didn’t house hipsters, cutesy townhouses and aspiring artists, Metzner recalls that ‘’… everything I saw came from reading rather than experiencing.’, and by employing the sheer power of imagination as means of surpassing poverty, she rose to prominence as one of the most influential (women) photographers of modern times.
Albeit the road, altho seemingly a very logical one, wasn’t as straightforward as one might have the impression of. In retrospective, it is the birth of her first child and the support of her friend and fellow photographer Aaron Rose that have proven to be decisive moments in photographer’s career.
However it wasn’t until 8-9 years after she started to photograph that Metzner considered her work to have reached the aspiring maturity and vision the photographer felt was truly her own.
And with a fairy-tale quality to the story Metzner’s work “Evyan, Kinderhook Creek,” was hand-picked and exhibited in “Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960.” at MoMA, catching the attention of the press and propelling Metzner’s vision to kudos.
Mysterious and inviting , it doesn’t require a lot of imagination to apprehend the strength of Metzner’s work, as when faced with it’s intensity it is almost impossible to cast a bypassing glance and move on. Sensuous and grainy, the photographs exude a sense of wonder– or a sense that if one is to stare at them long enough a secret would unravel. Thus, the magnetism that radiates from Metzner’s work could partially be attributed to the fact that it plays on viewers curiosity by offering an inexhaustible invitation to slowly peel layers off. By applying vision informed by reading with the experience of the real world without discarding one or the other, Metzner provided for multiple layers in a single image. The resulting allusiveness enhanced by the soft patina achieved by infamous “Fresson” printing methode (Fressons are a french family of printers rumored to work with solely 8 photographers in the world) ads to the tender seductivnes of Metzner’s imagery which undoubtedly elicits deep emotion and even incite reverie by playing on collective nostalgia for sepia toned photographs.
Metzner’s insatiability for photography, for “..capturing an image into a trap, her own dark box…” and the voracious impulse to photograph made me think of Susan Sontag, who reasoned that compulsion to photograph is partly due to the need to turn experience itself into a way of seeing.
It is no secret that Metzner’s unquenching thirst for grasping a moment with camera as a mean of trying to comprehend the world around her was driven by the notion of presenting her experience of people and places – an experience that ultimately culminated in a image.
While Sontag pointed out the falsity of the moment that has been appropriated by photographer, and consequently argued that image should not be readily accepted, Metzner encouraged the awareness of photographers role in shaping the experience of reality through imagery. The nature of the photograph is that it doesn’t offer a statement about the world in its entirety, but rather offers a moment sculpted by photographer’s eye or idea, and amalgamation of the two can often – as in Metzner’s-case be a lucky one.
Through her vision Metzner seeked to inspire and enrichen the viewer, not out of her pretentiousness or pompous need to inflict a syndicate point of view, but rather as a generous attempt of sharing her own experience with the surrounding world.
And ultimately that is what has made Metzner so interesting to begin with – her ability to merge the idea with the real moment in one single frame, thus awaking something within the viewer that has perhaps been numbed by the ceaseless stream of imagery – a task that to many might seem futile, yet somehow Sheila Metzner makes it look like a child’s game.
“Sheila Metzner: From Life” is on view at Staley-Wise Gallery until 20th January