Isaac Diggs – Middle Distance or The Anxiety of Influence
Photographer: Isaac Diggs (native of Cleveland, OH; works in Poughkeepsie, NY)
Publisher: Kris Graves Projects, Queens, NYC, NY; © 2018
Essays: Tisa Bryant, Arthur Jafa
Clothbound sewn hardback; 128 pages, unpaginated; 63 images; 10 ¾ x 8 ¾ inches; printed in Spain by SYL
Review by Gerhard Clausing
It takes an outsider to get to the heart of things. A photographer from the Eastern United States, Isaac Diggs takes a refreshing look at a street photography subject often marked by clichés: Los Angeles. In fact, this photobook has the subtitle, Photographs from Los Angeles. Diggs, who has created images in this city since 2009, states, “I am most attracted to port cities that are frayed around the edges, and where the movement of people and goods rarely stops; and cities where the cultural landscape refracts our anxieties around race, sex or class; and communities where deep cultural roots are threatened by gentrification and development.”
Thus some may be expecting documentary work in the manner of the traditional street photography genre. Lucky for us, that is not the case here. As the title indicates, Diggs sticks to middle distance as a respectful photographic viewpoint and photographs in color. As an outside observer he is able to capture a west coast world of in-between moments, many instances of what I call “the indecisive moment.” He observes a world of everyday occurrences that mark this amalgam of groups with all their struggles, anxieties, and aspirations, illuminated by seemingly eternal sunshine. And all this results in a project of very creative perceptions of our current world, at times odd or amusing, or both.
We see the scurrying of business people, the building of physical strength through exercise, the striving for beauty that is at the mercy of Hollywood-driven mythology, the adoration and cult of the automobile on various levels, and many more themes. All of them transcend the straight-forward depiction of everyday observations; this project is part of the more elaborate realm of metaphor and nuanced visual literacy. And, wouldn’t you know it, the foreword by Tisa Bryant makes use of literary references in discussing this fascinating project. The afterword by Arthur Jafa explores the complexities of these images, using the phrase “instances of cratered possibility.” I recommend a close reading of both essays.
It was a pleasure to meet Isaac Diggs and his astute and innovative publisher, Kris Graves, at last weekend’s LA Art Book Fair by Printed Matter. I am looking forward to many more successful photobooks from them, and I highly recommend this one.