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 into a 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 seem to enact a process of letting go, of making no claim over their subjects.Two atypical images from the book set me thinking about the nature of 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 THIS HOTEL WILL BE PROHIBITED FROM ENTERING ALL HOTELS AND TAVERNS IN THE TARANAKI AREA FOR A MINIMUM 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 here we have the inverse: two rows of disembodied names. Some names have been crossed out (no doubt their three months’ sobriety has expired and they are now allowed back) while the new names MICHAEL 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 subjects accommodated 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 project in general. These are names we do not recognise of people we will never meet. Also, the list on the pub signage wryly echoes the inscriptions on the war memorials which pepper small towns throughout 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 to mention goes beyond the anonymity that pervades virtually all of his images. It hints at a larger reality within the generally low-key gene-pool of his photography. In this image, a makeshift sign has been erected on the path up to the grave of James K. Baxter at Hiruharama. The sign says that visitors to the hallowed ground have to cough up $1.50 a head. Baxter’s name printed on wood is about as close as Lucien gets to celebrity photography—even if, in a limited sense, the modus operandi of his street photographs isn’t that different from that of paparazzi snapping the famous and powerful as they scarper from restaurants or court.Lucien isn’t so much an iconoclast as someone who, by his very natures sees through or beyond cultural icons. The photographer and his cast of thousands avoid the limelight, the Romantic gesture, the dramatic 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 heyday of the swandri jacket, the knitted cardigan, the Morris 1100; before the Golden Kiwi became Lotto. Damien Skinner in his introductory essay deftly touches on race relations around that time. He places these anonymous images within the context of a society which was trying desperately to work out who and what it was—against a backdrop of the Springbok Tour and what Damien calls the horrors of 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 white who stride towards the RSA at Paraparaumu). Lucien is attracted to that which is jettisoned or forgotten or that never really registered in the first place—he photographs acts as insubstantial as a girl waiting at 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 evasion which might have once have been considered a classic New Zealand mannerism. The photographs are acts of avoidance, of purposeful digression; they also indulge in another classic New Zealand manoeuvre, 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 and in completion is perfect yeast for a writerly imagination.Finally, Lucien Rizos’s photographs are like one of those old-style New Zealand shops where the shopkeeper keeps the special goods out of sight, behind the counter, for his regular customers. With this in mind, it’s up to us—the readers/viewers--to become, as it were ‘regular shoppers’, to become well-acquainted with this book, these images. 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, Damien and Ian. Spanning a full spectrum of greyness, herein we have enough glorious black and white to flush the colour-saturation and digitised photo-shopping of the present era from the eyes of anyone who ventures forth here.