New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Wuthering Heights be Damned
Sam Taylor-Wood in Brooklyn
Sam Taylor-Wood
Ghosts
R. Wayne Parsons
Ghosts VI by Sam Taylor-Wood. Source: brooklynmuseum.org
Sam Taylor-Wood, "Ghosts VI" 2008

Sam Taylor-Wood* first came to my attention via her time-lapse videos of decay. There are two I am aware of: one of a bowl of fruit and the other of a recently dead rabbit, both modeled on classic still life compositions. The videos compress the decay cycle of weeks into several minutes. Both are fascinating and creative updates on the traditional still life genre. You can see them on YouTube, though be forewarned that these are not for the squeamish, especially the one with the rabbit. You can find quite a lot of this sort of thing on YouTube, and I’m not sure who should have the copyright (assuming that were possible, which it is not).

So it was with great expectations that I went to the Brooklyn Museum of Art to see her current exhibition “Ghosts”, a series of ten color landscapes of the Yorkshire moors, the setting for Emily Bronte’s 1847 romance “Wuthering Heights”. I was disappointed.

The photographs are large and finely crafted, though in no way groundbreaking or path setting. But the main problem is that the moors are not nearly as interesting in photographs as I imagine they are in person. We are so accustomed to photographs of spectacular natural scenery that these are dull by comparison. The terrain is one of low rolling hills covered mostly with grass, small bushes, and an occasional tree. To be on the heath and watch the clouds race across the sky, to feel the wind on one’s cheek, to hear the bleating of distant sheep and the rustling of the grass, and to detect nothing but bleak desolation as far as one can see would be a truly memorable experience. Certainly not the case looking at these photos.

Ghosts XI by Sam Taylor-Wood. Source: brooklynmuseum.org
Sam Taylor-Wood, "Ghosts XI" 2008

If the photographs are unexciting visually, perhaps they would be redeemed if they heightened our appreciation of “Wuthering Heights”. But the link to “Wuthering Heights” seems more of an excuse than an integral part of the project. It is certainly not the case, as asserted in the wall text accompanying the exhibition, that the “the bleak, wild landscape almost turns that locale into the novel’s third major character.” (Though the use of the waffle-word “almost” in this statement leads us to wonder what the curator really means).

Evidence that Emily Bronte’s novel is not dependant on the moors for its power is the relocation of the story to wholly different parts of the globe in several film adaptations (Mexico in Luis Bunuel’s 1954 version of the story, Tokugawa- era Japan in Yoshishige Yoshida’s 1988 remake, and contemporary California in a 2003 MTV effort). In no way do these photographs convey the destructive human passions and Gothic sensibilities that are such an essential part of the novel.

If you really want to experience the spirit of “Wuthering Heights” , my advice is to read the book.

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* Am I the only person in the world who prefers that given names be gender indicative so that I can avoid embarrassing faux pas such as “Dear Mr. Taylor-Wood”? (Editorial Note: Dear “R.,” Yes.)

Sam Taylor-Wood
Ghosts


Brooklyn Museum of Art
200 Eastern Parkway
Central Brooklyn         Map

718 638 5000
brooklynmuseum.org

Saturday, October 30 to
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Hours: Wed - Fri, 10 to 5; Sat Sun, 11 - 6
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