LUCIEN RIZOS – A MAN WALKS OUT OF A BAR
Lucien Rizos’s photographs ask some biggish questions about the photographic process: A man walks out of a bar…a man walks intoa photograph…what is the nature of this trajectory?And if photography is often an art of attachment—a holding onto of memories, meanings or sentiments--then Lucien’s photos also seemto enact a process of letting go, of making no claim over their subjects.Two atypical images from the book set me thinking about the natureof Lucien’s project. In one photograph, taken in the Inglewood public bar, a sign is pinned to the wall. It reads: ANY PERSON OR PERSONS WHO BECOME INTOXICATED, VIOLENT,QUARRELSOME, INSULTING OR DISORDERLY IN THISHOTEL WILL BE PROHIBITED FROM ENTERING ALLHOTELS AND TAVERNS IN THE TARANAKI AREA FOR AMINIMUM OF THREE MONTHS.At the foot of this notice is a listing of people banned from the pub.Usually there’s a pervasive anonymity to Rizos’s subjects, but herewe have the inverse: two rows of disembodied names. Some nameshave been crossed out (no doubt their three months’ sobriety hasexpired and they are now allowed back) while the new namesMICHAEL LONGSAFE and WIN CORLETT have been tacked on.The photograph enacts a process of inclusion and exclusion— hinting at a question fundamental to this kind of photographic project and the culture generally—on what terms are subjectsaccommodated and on what terms are others left out.The list of disempowered and rehabilitated drinkers in Lucien’s photograph is very much like the cast-list in his photographic projectin general. These are names we do not recognise of people we willnever meet. Also, the list on the pub signage wryly echoes theinscriptions on the war memorials which pepper small townsthroughout New Zealand. Here’s that question again: Who’s coming back, who’s not?The second photograph from Lucien’s book which I would like tomention goes beyond the anonymity that pervades virtually all of hisimages. It hints at a larger reality within the generally low-keygene-pool of his photography. In this image, a makeshift sign has been erected on the path up to the grave of James K. Baxter atHiruharama. The sign says that visitors to the hallowed ground haveto cough up $1.50 a head. Baxter’s name printed on wood is aboutas close as Lucien gets to celebrity photography—even if, in a
limited sense, the modus operandi of his street photographs isn’t thatdifferent from that of paparazzi snapping the famous and powerfulas they scarper from restaurants or court.Lucien isn’t so much an iconoclast as someone who, by his verynatures sees through or beyond cultural icons. The photographer andhis cast of thousands avoid the limelight, the Romantic gesture, thedramatic or defining moment, they bypass allegory....they run for cover. That said, his images do hint at some notion of broader social progress, as it played out between 1979-1982. This was the heydayof the swandri jacket, the knitted cardigan, the Morris 1100; beforethe Golden Kiwi became Lotto. Damien Skinner in his introductoryessay deftly touches on race relations around that time. He placesthese anonymous images within the context of a society which wastrying desperately to work out who and what it was—against a backdrop of the Springbok Tour and what Damien calls the horrorsof the Robert Muldoon era.There is a validictory quality to the series as befits the end of an era.Lucien’s subjects are invariably leaving rather than entering buildings... (a rare exception being the three figures dressed in whitewho stride towards the RSA at Paraparaumu). Lucien is attracted tothat which is jettisoned or forgotten or that never really registered inthe first place—he photographs acts as insubstantial as a girl waitingat an intersection for the lights to change, or eating an ice cream.The figures in Lucien’s photographs very seldom meet your eye.They slink away; they stare at the ground. It’s a kind of evasionwhich might have once have been considered a classic New Zealandmannerism. The photographs are acts of avoidance, of purposefuldigression; they also indulge in another classic New Zealandmanoeuvre, this time a sporting one: the side-step.At the far end of Lucien’s suite of 66 photographs is a thought- provoking essay by Ian Wedde. Who better to follow the exiting bar-man than Wedde…Not surprisingly, writers love Rizos’s photographs because so much is going on outside the picture frame,or behind the weatherboard exterior. Their understatement andincompletion is perfect yeast for a writerly imagination.Finally, Lucien Rizoss’s photographs are like one of those old-style New Zealand shops where the shopkeeper keeps the special goodsout of sight, behind the counter, for his regular customers. With thisin mind, it’s up to us—the readers/viewers--to become, as it were‘regular shoppers’, to become well-acquainted with this book, theseimages. In good time, you will find things being spirited forth from behind the counter, treasures will emerge from the back room.
Congratulations to Rim Books and Photoforum, to Lucien, Damienand Ian. Spanning a full spectrum of greyness, herein we haveenough glorious black and white to flush the colour-saturation anddigitised photo-shopping of the present era from the eyes of anyonewho ventures forth here.