Again, again, and again
The work of a novice is typically characterized by its exploratory, frequently random character. Beginning photographers see everything as a potential subject – people, buildings, birds, whatever. Those that persist begin a process of slowly narrowing down, perhaps discovering an affinity for images of the land, or a fascination with the chaos and unpredictability of working on the street, or an ease with the slower and more methodical process in the studio. We dig further down into our own unique fascinations and slowly unpack distinct and characteristic ways of seeing and working. We begin to unearth and own particular ideas, visions, motifs, stories
Those who stay on the train all the way to the end of the line discover that the last stop is a place called Obsession. This is the territory where things can get turned upside down – the art begins to pursue the artist. It becomes hungry and insatiable, demanding and jealous. Its rise to power begins to crowd out our mundane daytime tasks of merely living, it monopolizes our nighttime thoughts and takes our dreams hostage.
It is surely a great calamity for a human being to have no obsessions. – Robert Bly
There is a long lineage, countless examples of artistic obsession. Mark Rothko’s late paintings have always been an important personal example, probably because their brilliantly nuanced repetitiveness taught me something about what it feels like to witness the eye of a creative hurricane. In contemporary photography I think of Bernd and Hilla Becker’s Typologies of Water Towers , Thomas Struth’s Unconscious Places, and Jean-Luc Mylayne’s chromogenic prints of birds.
Viewers and readers live entirely outside this process. We only bear witness to the end product, the work, and remain ingnorant of all that is incomplete about what it does or does not tell us. No one knows what it really feels like to live inside the artist’s skin.
The oldest principle of composition: repeat everything. – Richard Powers
But there are sometimes subtle hints, breadcrumbs, footprints, traces of something about an artist’s work that is tenacious and repetitive, a recurring motif that is particularly insistent, a tone in the work’s voice that tugs at us almost like a sonic vortex.
The cypresses are always occupying my thoughts. – Vincent van Gogh
Sahidul Hassan’s work has something of the siren’s song about it, and a good part of its pull derives from its sheer repetitiveness. All twenty one images presented here are essentially the same idea, the same image, the same obsession. This is not meant as a criticism, but more as a case study of what fixation looks like.
Who are these singular figures, where is this sunless landscape? Of course, this is not an external place, but rather a landscape that exists on the inside, somewhere inside of Hassan himself. This is a mythic, not a literal place.
Hassan’s ability to conjure this magic trick through the medium of photography, itself so tied to the literal and concrete, is what makes the work so seductive and arresting.
With an obsession you keep coming back and back and back to the same question and never get an answer. – Norman Mailer
The central tension for any artist in thrall to an obsession is that each new image, gesture, artifact remains imperfect and incomplete. The latest image, while perhaps closer to the intent and ideal, is never quite right, it never quite completely answers whatever the impenetrable quesiton might be.
The questions are inexhaustable. The work is endless. The well is bottomless.
We should all be so lucky.
images: © copyright 2016 Sahidul Hassan. No use without permission. Contact:
words: © copyright 2016 Joseph Squier. No use without permission. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org