Photographs by Christian Patterson. Introduction by Robert Gordon. Essay by Dr. Susanna Ott.
Kaune Sudendorf, Cologne, 2008. Hardcover. 110pp., 47 color illustrations. 9"x12".
Sound Affects Photographs by Christian Patterson. Introduction by Robert Gordon. Essay by Dr. Susanna Ott. published by Kaune Sudendorf, 2008
Memphis, Tennessee. A lovely, mid-summer glow graces an alley between utterly banal buildings in a photograph titled "Bill's Twilight." Even without this tip of the hat, and a back-matter acknowledgment to "friend" William Eggleston, Christian Patterson's first major monograph pays significant and worthy homage to the Memphis-based master. Indeed, Sound Affects, shot in and around Memphis over a period of several years, teems with variations on the Eggleston theme. Like a promising jazz apprentice who records an album in tribute to a musical mentor, here Patterson has crafted an eloquent sequence of images that honor elder visionaries while demonstrating the growth of the medium. Patterson's palette strikes chords up and down the Eggleston scale—his reds, blues, greens, and grittiness demonstrate the enduring qualities of photography dedicated to observing use, transience, vanity, and benign neglect.
Color is a principal player in these images, which are entirely devoid of people save for the irresistibly attractive lower legs and feet in "Raiford's Boots"—like a disco Dorothy Gale, the ruby footwear expands to mirror-flecked trousers and a sweeping cape, and the ensemble is perfectly in step with the yellow-red-orange striped floor. Overall, the formal quality of the Sound Affects material mirrors and amplifies Eggleston's chromatic brilliance—the "twilight" view offers perhaps the gentlest light in the book, while numerous other photographs suggest the younger artist's excitement at encountering the quotidian beauty of Eggleston territory in person.
Sound Affects by Christian Patterson. Published by Kaune Sudendorf, 2008.
It should also be recalled that William Eggleston is immensely interested in music; Alec Soth and Lee Friedlander have both portrayed him in musical modes. Though someone with acute audio-visual synaesthesia has yet to testify about the medium-mingling effects of Patterson's photographs, essayist Susanna C. Ott explores the extent to which he "builds a visual analogy to music," and her argument could have gone further by extending the book's title to consider how sound, and Patterson's immersion in it over many years, may have affected the photographer and the work he made during his residence in Memphis in the first half of this decade. Would a given musician—Elvis? Stan Getz? Yma Sumac? James Blood Ulmer? (to cite a few whose name or face appear in the book)—respond to these images, as composer, performer, and photographer Ernest Bloch did to Stieglitz' "Equivalents," by saying "Music! Music! Man, why, that is music!" Patterson seems aware of such parallels, but does not buttress his project by relying on a secondary medium, or on a backing band to shore up amplitude. Perhaps the least interesting image in the book, "Stax Bottle," of a green 7-UP atop a stack of audio components, still gains traction largely because of the title, which calls up a legendary recording studio and leads one to wonder just what music-world celebrity might have left salivary DNA, or a cigarette butt, in that soda pop. Sound Affects is canny, but not arch; the work sings a poignant, a cappella harmony.
George Slade is an independent photography scholar based in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was the artistic director and chief curator of the Minnesota Center for Photography from 2003 until the organization closed in July 2008.