ARCHY LASALLE is a photographer who makes images of such extraordinary clarity and composition that we might naturally assume that they have been staged. The truth is that these arrangements in natural or urban settings occur exactly as he finds them, but it is the finding that is critical.
LaSalle looks hard for that mythical moment in time and space that makes photography what it is.
This artist's particular kind of "moment" reveals a complexity that is easily overlooked in the face of his cool, classical calm. LaSalle's images are as elegant and perfect as the Parthenon, wrought with an unimpeachable dynamism and fortitude. It is what this photographer controls so magnificently on a visual and technical level that allows us to understand what it is that he feels is beyond his control; what gets stilled in his photographs reflects just where he goes for stillness.
A telling feature that LaSalle adds to the experience of this work is the thin black frame, created by the edge of the negative. It is included in the image not only to bring some humanity to bear on the implacability of the classicism, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to underscore just how much of a perfectionist this photographer really is.
The picture we see is precisely the one he saw and intended.
It is not surprising that LaSalle goes to such great lengths to make his work beyond reproach (so much so that in the end his perfectionism may be all that can be faulted). As a young artist who left the deep South for the Northeast and never looked back, he found his sense of place in his work, and his support came from that larger family of art - his peers in the art community, as well as a cherished heritage of Western culture.
Although LaSalle is African-American, he prefers that issues of race remain outside of his photographs, and this is possible at least in part because there are rarely people in them. He sees himself as an individual, an explorer/archeologist/sociologist of the world at large, and while he may not photograph people, he does go where they've been, and his work takes us there. We are privileged to stand in his shoes, see what he sees, feel his vision, and drink in his experience.
Fittingly, LaSalle is also a teacher. It is all part of the same commitment to sharing.
The face of LaSalle's vision is formal, and its features are often structural - stairways, bridges, archways; or in the case of nature - trees, rocks, and horizons. The shapes of these images become the architecture of the photograph, its structural support, its symmetry, its order. Within that structure, however, all of life goes on, layered in metaphor and chaos, and framed by the embrace of a larger order.
LaSalle talks about the meaning of these spaces. How every place is both an outside and an inside, relatively speaking. A train station is a womb; a night sky is a canopy of stars. Photography defines the line or edge of outside looking in, or inside looking out. Through all of this, light beckons us - sometimes through a doorway, from the top of the stairs.
These are black-and-white photographs. We can look at them any way we like. They are striking. Crisp and broad. Panoramic. They let us look harder.
They're not life on a pedestal. More of a grand stage.