David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of new
work by Stan Douglas, on view at the 525 and 533 West 19th
Street gallery spaces.
Since the late 1980s, Douglas has created films, photographs,
and installations that reexamine particular locations or past
events. His works often take their points of departure in local
settings, from which broader issues can be identified. Making
frequent use of new as well as outdated technologies,
Douglas appropriates existing Hollywood genres (including
murder mysteries and the Western) and borrows from classic
literary works (notably Samuel Beckett, Herman Melville, and
Franz Kafka) to create ready-made contextual frameworks for
his complex, thoroughly researched projects.
Douglas’s films, which are often randomly looped and may take days to unfold, defy straightforward expectations of
narrative and authorship, while his photographs—sometimes heavily digitally retouched—deliberately eschew a linear
reading. Examining the contrasts that exist between personal, subjective impressions of a given place or past event and
the prevailing, “official” representation of the same location or occurrence, Douglas rethinks linguistic and aesthetic
structures while at the same time grounding his works in specific material or political circumstances.
This exhibition debuts an extensive project by Douglas that chronicles the burgeoning discipline of press photography
in North America during the postwar period. Douglas has assumed the role of a fictional, anonymous photographer to
create a series of images hypothetically produced between 1945-1951. To do so, he constructed a veritable “midcentury
studio” using authentic equipment as well as actors to produce carefully staged, black-and-white photographs that
painstakingly emulate the period’s obsession with drama, “caught-in-the-moment” crime-scenes, curious and exotic
artifacts, magicians, fashion, dance, gambling, and technology.
Douglas’s midcentury alter-ego revokes the career of the legendary photographer Arthur Fellig, also known as Weegee
(1899-1968). Self-taught, Weegee typically photographed at night, always using the same heavy camera, exposure
time, and flash; he is particularly known for his documentation of the New York nightscape in the years surrounding the
Second World War. In addition, Douglas also refers to the relatively unknown work of Raymond Munro, a Canadian war
veteran who became a photojournalist without any photographic education or experience, and to the New York-based
Black Star photo agency founded in the mid-1930s (whose archives are now housed at Ryerson University in Toronto),
which frequently employed photographers with little formal training, but nonetheless came to influence the field of
photographic reportage for many decades.
Douglas’s black-and-white photographs offer a fragmentary portrait of the immediate postwar period in North America.
They include the disturbingly casual scene of a murder victim freshly covered by the daily papers; a fight in the stands of
a hockey stadium; close-up, detailed guides for how to throw a cricket ball and steal a wristwatch; a programmatic image
of a dancer’s movements captured with the help of a strobe light; and a trio of men gambling in a doorway over a game
of dice. Starkly lit, dark shadows and areas of black dominate most of the images, whether or not they are nighttime
shots. Douglas was specifically fascinated by those elements of the image that are beyond the photographer’s control,
and while his artificial lighting and staged compositions are evidently at odds with the desire for spontaneity expressed
by the midcentury practitioners, many of the artist’s works have an unexpected, uncanny dimension secondary to their
immediate subject matter.
A fully illustrated catalogue, edited by Tommy Simoens, will be published by Ludion Press on the occasion of the show,
featuring an introduction to Midcentury Studio by the artist and essays by Christopher Phillips and Pablo Sigg.
Born in Vancouver in 1960, Stan Douglas has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions at prominent