Leslie Hewitt: Still Life Studies
When I first came across the work of Leslie Hewitt, I was thinking about the historical significance and limitations of black representation in portraiture and in abstraction. To me, this work starts to address some of those issues in a subtle and impactful way. There is something about the placement of the wooden board, dead-center in the frame, that made me instantly curious about this image. For starters it made me aware of the photograph as being a sort of act, as something still in motion, something that is contemplating the contents of itself.
The intention placed in the framing and composition of her photographs is always fasinating to me. I feel there is a lot of tension in what she choses to share, for example in the piece above, the contents of a photograph are implied and yet hidden from view, along with the premise of each book that she so carefully positioned in the frame. Through all of the editing of information, there is something that is revealed; a worn copy of James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, sits under the weight of the board. The incorporation of important books and magazines on racial politics in the 1960s and 70s is a common theme in the series Still Life Studies, along with personal and found vintage photographs.
Hewitt's work has been described as a mixture of photography and sculpture. She has an incredible ability to edit and omit where necessary, to pair down an image and the information available to a viewer, while prompting more questions in the process. This series reads like self-reflective portraits, accentuating the limitations of the frame to encompass and represent a person. Perhaps in the case of her work, she is accentuating the limitations of representing the inherently political aspect of being black in America.
Hewitt's work was also incredibly significant to me personally because she was able to address racial politics in a non-figurative way while also doing something really different for contemporary photography with still life images. Similarly to Carrie Mae Weems, whose photography incorporated elements of performance, Hewitt blurs the lines between photography and sculpture, even in the way her work is displayed. The wooden frames, which mimic the solid wooden frames in the images, are casually set on the floor and propped against the wall. This instantly changes our dynamic with the works and reiterates the sculptural elements. Hewitt's work continually reveals itself and for that reason she is one of the photographers that made me love art.