I first saw Andrew Lyman’s photographs through the Facebook profiles of friends; art-school types who would congregate in Brooklyn for the summers, their profile pictures enough to leave me feeling like my life was devoid of the aesthetic, the cool, the… well… you know the type. At first glance I thought his work was nothing crazy. But the more I saw, the more I was struck by its insistent sincerity. Embedded in a generation of photographers seemingly obsessed with a hermetic sort of irony, Andrew’s images felt like a breath of fresh air. His photos are filled with moments of mundane intimacy: floral patterns and seas of pale flesh come into focus as bodies sprawled out on beds, on carpets, on really any surface one can nestle into – all affixed to photo paper in the softest of morning light. Interspersed with screenshots of texts and personal notes from his phone, his oeuvre clings to the sexuality and romance of adolescence in a way that borders the naïve. Yet it’s precisely this openness to vulnerability – this lack of distance – that makes his work feel so poignant.
Around the time I discovered Andrew’s work I was also beginning to lose interest in photography. Not to be dramatic, but it just felt so dead. I was looking for art that felt radical, that would “usher in a new day”. Conventional photography felt inherently limited – doomed to always only ever capture and aestheticize the past. It was a pleasant surprise then to see a new series begin to appear on Andrew’s blog. In addition to his film photos, he began posting short loops of video rendered as GIFs. Lasting no more than a few seconds, the digital images pushed me to consider the duration of that oh so tricky “decisive moment”. For precisely this reason I was immediately reminded of the “durational photographs” of Owen Kydd, a Canadian artist who I’d heard championed by the ever-inspiring critic and curator Charlotte Cotton a couple years before. Like Andrew, Kydd presents short, fixed-shot videos as photographs. Instead of portraits, however, he photographs still lifes. In the place of sensuous moments of subjective beauty, one finds abstract situations that subtly move for minutes on end, evoking a sense of uneasiness as the viewer waits for something to enter the frame. He’s stated that his interest in duration stems from a desire to create a sense of presentness, and that he’s been asked if his images are livestreams from a studio somewhere else. Not unlike the sense of reality found in the cinematic long take – as exemplified in Warhol’s epic Empire, the over eight hour fixed-shot film of the Empire State Building – Kydd’s work attempts to “confuse the moment of filming with the experience of viewing”.
In both artists’ work there is an exploitation of the contingency of the digital image in a way that allows a different feeling of time. In contrast to the registration of light on paper, as in film photography, digital images contain a substratum of zeros-and-ones with the potentiality of an infinite number of other images. This transformative ability opens the image to duration in ways previously unavailable as the pixels can morph through the familiar guise of video. In his pioneering book New Philosophy for New Media, Mark Hansen posits that it is precisely through duration that the viewer is made aware of their affectivity. Although difficult to succinctly define, affectivity is the sensation within the viewer of their own intensity, a feeling of more-than that seems to well out of the subject, a feeling that is only ever fully felt in the present. It is perhaps for this reason that the static images of photography feel so dead. Towards the end of his book Hansen does an analysis of Douglas Gordon’s monumental 24-Hour Psycho (1993), suggesting that the vexing power of cinema is not, as one would expect, found within the frames of the cinematic film. In this video piece, Gordon appropriates the 1960 Hitchcock classic and slows it down to a tedious 2 fps, creating a cinema-experience that exists largely within the interstice between frames. By slowing the thriller so substantially, Hansen argues the work plays with its viewers’ sense of anticipation, creating a sense of anxiety as they becomes aware of the narrative’s horrifying destination, forced to wait on edge for each frame’s halted progression. He thus understands the cinematic experience as taking place within the interstice, or to say it more fully, as taking place within the viewer in the act of correlating each image to what has transpired before, and to what is anticipated to happen next. In contrast to the suspended past-moment of photography, the experience of cinema allows a certain form to appear within the movement or gesture of the sensation felt within the viewer.
Andrew’s GIFs capture affective moments that cannot exist as still images. In his pictures he seems interested instead in the sensuousness of small movements: the brush of a hand, the gentle opening of lips, and, again and again, the batting of eyes. They’re not quite gestures (in the sense that they become discursive), but they do come loaded with a shared sense of meaning. Jose Esteban Munoz, in his truly breathtaking book Cruising Utopias, dedicates a chapter to the importance of gesture within the telling of queer histories. Understanding queerness as existing outside the discursive practices of a heteronormative, majoritarian culture and language, Munoz sees acts of queer performance as carrying the trace of a queer potentiality. In an analysis of the nightlife performer Kevin Anviance, Munoz understands the drag performer’s afrofuturist aesthetic and bold use of agendered gestures as suggesting a certain queer futurity, a utopian glimpse at a different way of being. Within the context of an increasingly “Disneyfied” New York club scene (*read white and heteronormative), Munoz understands Aviance and the gestures he performs as beacons for all the emotions that queers are not allowed to feel. In the femme twist of an ankle or in the boldness of a movement, Munoz identifies a break with the oppressive reality of heteronormative movement and body politics.
Although different from the duration of a performance, I see the moments captured in Andrew’s photos as expressing a similar kind of futurity. Roland Barthes wrote that the mark of the utopian is in the quotidian, as it is evident only through that which is missing in the here and now. In capturing brief moments of affective intimacy, Andrew’s works catalyze memories of vulnerability and of acceptance, of pleasure and of love. Like the durational photographs of Owen Kydd, the temporality of these movements opens the image to a certain sense of presentness, catalyzing an experience that leaves me yearning and desiring for something that feels as if it exist on the horizon. Despite their beauty, Andrew’s images retain a certain sense of tragedy. The touch of warm flesh, or the careless blinking of the eyes, seems only possible in the morning light of a bedroom window. While they may evoke a cinematic sense of wonder, they still exist as photographs, artifacts of some moment lost in the memory. The image’s sense of presence thus evokes a simultaneous sense of absence. And even then, the images are only able to evoke the absence of potentialities found within the frame, speaking little to the absence of trans and colored bodies and histories.
Andrew’s durational photographs open experience to both the past and the future. Shown to the world on his blog, the images have a sense of diaristic infinitude to them. They exist as a constantly evolving catalogue, similar in ways to the literally archival display of images found in the work of artists like Paul Mpagi Sepuya. Understood more as a process, his display of images seems to suggest a recognition of the limitations of photography and an openness to a futurity that exists beyond photography’s domain. In the first sentence of his book Munoz states, “… we are not yet queer”. We are not yet queer, he insists, but the future is queerness’ domain.
from Noah reclined in my car, 2015