Nov 14, 2011

REVIEW | The Dazzling Instant | Witliff Collection | Alkek Library

9/11, Antonio Turok, 2001, photograph

"The photograph is a guillotine blade that seizes one dazzling instant in eternity."  This quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered to be the father of modern photojournalism is the inspiration for The Dazzling Instant exhibition.  Housed within the Witliff Collections on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library at Texas State University-San Marcos, the exhibition consists of 95 pieces by 70 different photographers.

The pieces presented display images from the nineteenth century through the twenty-first.  They include photographs from household names like Ansel Adams to candid shots of Boystown revelers captured by unknown photographers.

The Sower, Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison, 2002, photograph
 All except for a handful of the photographs are black and white shots with white mats framed in black.  They are spread throughout one large, well-lit room and two smaller ones, the photographs placed close together, but not in a claustrophobic manner.   Although the wood paneling and checkered patterned carpet had warm colors, the space still felt austere.  The substance of the photographs lent an astringent, almost operating room feel to the gallery.  Perhaps it was because I was alone and projecting, but I'd like to think the curators knew what they were doing to inspire such solemnity upon viewing.

The subjects of the photographs vary as widely as the artists and the era in which they were captured, although a sense of timelessness encapsulates all of them.  If the dates were not placed on the placards, I would have had a hard time distinguishing from whence came the more modern naturalist images of Ken Rosenthal or familiar ones captured by Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange decades prior.  I appreciated a curious blend of pathos and humor in the photographs as well.  Many of the images portrayed people in the depth of struggle, but these were balanced out with the aforementioned Mexican carousers and a particularly mirthful portrait of Tom Waits, looking at his Mayor of the Hobos best.

I'm very glad this assignment took me to the floor of the library I've managed to avoid for so long.  The Lonesome Dove and Cormac McCarthy collections feature material from some of my favorite works of fiction, and the pieces featured in The Dazzling Instant are truly breathtaking.

-  John Elmore


  1. ContributorDec 5, 2011 07:47 PM
    This is awesome! I have done the same as you with avoiding that floor, now I wish I didn't!
    -Mary Gardner