On a High Wire

by Danilo Brunetti

A photography exhibit of daring self-portraiture explores the fragility of life.

A new exhibition at Galleria Lorcan O’Neill showcases works by British filmmaker and photographer Sam Taylor-Johnson. Wired presents a series of large self-portrait photographs, all of which feature the artist precariously suspended by trapeze wires high above the dry rocky Californian desert in the moon-like landscape of Joshua Tree. Taylor-Johnson’s new body of work explores the vulnerability of the human condition and the precariousness of life amid all its apparent successes. In some of the images, the artist is dangled upside down from a tall crane, her slight figure silhouetted against the stark blue sky; in others she is hoisted by rope and pulley above enormous rocks, accentuating her physical vulnerability and fragility. Placed randomly in the landscape around her are symbolic props, such as iconic American cars (a DeLorean DMC-12 and a sea-blue Buick, for example), a rabbit, party balloons, bananas, and old-fashioned film-studio backdrops, all indicative of aspirational dreams of success and abundance. 

When asked about the visible cables, gears, and machinery used to create the images, Taylor-Johnston says: “In this age where every image is re-touched, it felt truthful to show the machinery which supported me in the air and held me suspended between land and sky.” When it comes to the choice of location, she notes: “Joshua Tree is a place of spirits and otherworldliness. A place where trees can live up to 1000 years and are all connected underground by a network of roots. Working in Los Angeles gave me the feeling of an outsider living in a magical world of otherness. Joshua Tree seemed to represent that pictorially.” 

Preparation for the works took a number of years, including the making of many collages, some of which are on display as part of the exhibition. Vicolo dei Catinari, 3. Tel 0668892980. lorcanoneill.com