Daniel Gordon: Flying Pictures

Daniel Gordon: Flying Pictures

Review by Bill Clarke

Daniel Gordon: Flying Pictures
Powerhouse Books, 2009
Hardcover, 56 pages
Printed in an edition of 1,000 copies
$45 US

In 1960, the French artist Yves Klein produced one of the world’s most famous avant-garde photographs, Leap into the Void. In it, the artist appears to hurl himself, without regard for his physical safety, from the top of a high wall. For an instant, it looks as if he is about to fly, and not plummet to the brick road beneath him. The ecstatic look on the artist’s face adds to the sense of abandon and free-spiritedness of the image.

Fifty years ago, people couldn’t quite figure out how Klein managed to make such an image. Today, however, in a world where digitally manipulated photography is commonplace, we are not surprised to learn that Klein’s image was constructed in a darkroom. We are now so accustomed to pictures that have been altered to produce a heightened sense of ‘reality’ that, ironically, we have a hard time trusting what we see in a photograph.

Which makes purely unadulterated photographs such as Brooklyn-based artist Daniel Gordon’s Flying Pictures so refreshing. In this charming book, Gordon positions himself as an everyday Superman, soaring over rural landscapes, clad only in an amusing array of raggedy long johns or tights.

The Flying Pictures, which were shown at Leo Koenig Inc. in New York in the fall of 2009, consists of colour and black & white images. In the colour photographs, Gordon definitely appears to be suspended in the air; his body is rigid and his facial expressions (when the camera is close enough to capture them) display calm determination. Some of the black & white photographs, which may be practice shots for the colour images, are a bit more comically awkward, with Gordon flailing his arms and legs as he attempts to gain height or achieve physical symmetry.

In most of the photographs, the camera has been positioned at a low angle, which captures Gordon’s figure sharply against the blue skies, or, in one of my favourite photographs, skimming the top of a snow-covered hill. The low angle also hides from our view how he is achieving his ‘flight’. Is he leaping from platforms or bouncing from a trampoline? Nor do we see his inevitable descent. Did he land with a splat, flat out on the ground or, like Klein (who was a judo expert) did he manage to do a tuck-and-roll, saving himself from too many scrapes and bruises? By not revealing these things, Gordon, like the viewer, remains forever suspended in the moment of greatest possibility.

In the book’s short introductory essay, the photographer Gregory Crewdson writes that “on a fundamental level, the art of photography is about the miracle, and how to make the ordinary, extraordinary.” Gordon has done this without the use of Photoshop or any other digital slight-of-hand. All of the photographs were created only through the carefully timed orchestrations between Gordon and his assistant behind the camera.

Other writers have wondered whether the Flying Pictures reflect Gordon’s desire to escape all the drudgery of being earthbound — the family and work responsibilities, the financial and relationship woes, and society’s rules. If so, these photographs should serve as an inspiration to every put-upon Clark Kent who longs to strip down to his skivvies and make a graceful leap into the unknown, gravity be damned.