Miguel Gandert’s photograph Jesus with Romans, Good Friday, Santa Fe, New Mexico in the new exhibit Constructed Realities at April Price Projects Gallery offers the viewer a rare opportunity to consider both a perfect photograph and the way photography has changed in recent years.
Gandert is known for his decades-long work documenting New Mexico. Often working in black and white, his photographs are as recognizable for style as they are for subject matter. It is the style developed by photojournalists to establish a sense of being there. Indeed, it requires the photographer to be very close to the subject being photographed. Since the 1930s when the great photographer Robert Capa established the often-repeated rebuke to novice photographers that “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” photographers have surged into war zones and quinceañeras with equal zeal, wide-angle lens mounted in hopes of producing better work through a more diligent application of this linear concept. It has, more often than not, proven an effective method. Capa was no idiot.
Gandert has captured Jesus with Romans perfectly within this construct. We are there. We can instantly tell what is happening and feel the emotions we are meant to feel because all the visual clues are there for us at the ready. The intimacy is achieved technically: a black and white photograph, a wide-angle lens, a center-lit subject and a well-established story. It is a perfect photograph, for 2012.
Jesus with Romans is now on the proverbial BC side of a BC/AD divide due primarily, if not entirely, to Instagram (to torture an analogy). We have changed the way that we make and view photographs, leaving Gandert’s photograph, as comparatively young as it is, looking old on the previous side of an Instagram-induced divide. The intimacy we find in photographs now is not guided by the photographer in this same way. Phones have swamped the camera-created image, brought forward the field of view (abandoning the wide-angle lens) and left us far less interested in perfection than an individual approach to constructing our own reality. Among a show of contemporary work, Gandert’s photograph remains a prime example of the fine, and increasingly rare, craft of photography.