Color Transparency: Seeing the World Through Shop Windows in Jill Corson's Photographs
By Jerry Cullum
Through a perverse turn of etymology, one of the meanings of “pedestrian” is “boringly ordinary.” But pedestrian-friendly cities are anything but pedestrian; their storefronts are designed as locales of magic to charm the casual walker. In nineteenth century Paris, studiedly artistic strollers lingered and perused the wares of the arcade-enclosed shops, enjoying as aesthetic spectacle the scene created to stir desires for acquisition. The flaneur (for that is what the Parisian stroller was called) looked in the windows but never went in.
Americans have never had that level of restraint, and Jill Corson admits that she was once seduced. Yet her photographs of New York and London and San Francisco and, unexpectedly, intown Atlanta exemplify the cult of the flaneur perfectly; it is possible to gaze enraptured into the mysterious depths of the centers of commerce in these photographs, seeing through their window displays in more ways than one, and seeing reflections of the crowd likewise.
There is enormous visual pleasure in these photographs. There is also visual information, for the would-be sociologist of the contemporary street. This is what Walter Benjamin would have called the phantasmagoria of consumer culture, the oh so trendy razzle-dazzle of its bling-bling. As that string of terms from wildly different decades is meant to indicate, this streetside show has been going on for generations.
You don’t have to read German theorists like Benjamin to see that it’s all done with smoke and mirrors, or these days, with digital special effects. The gorgeousness isn’t there to be enjoyed for the ages; it’s there, as Ezra Pound once wrote, to be sold, and to be sold quickly. The amazing array is set up to catch the eye, and then to catch the credit card.
Jill Corson’s photographs reveal the tricks, but from the viewpoint of a lover whose eyes have been opened, not a censorious puritan. The scene is luscious, and these photographs are luscious. She adores the loveliness with all her heart, but she still isn’t buying it.
For her, the glass doors and windows of the temples of style are transparent in more ways than one. She looks, gets the picture, and walks on by.Copyright Jerry Cullum 2005. All rights reserved.
Jerry Cullum is an Atlanta-based freelance curator and critic who has written for publications including Art in America, ARTnews, and Art Papers. He is a regular contributor to artsatl.com and burnaway.org.