Danforth Art Museum Essay

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Brooke Payson

Danforth Art Museum Photograph Essay

For many, abandoned buildings hold keys to the past. They are places frozen in time- authentic, eerie, and intriguing all in the same. Photographer and mixed media artist Samuel Quinn is one willing to break laws and trespass property in order to explore and capture these deserted wonders. In 2008, while in the South Shore driving his friend home, Quinn passed an eye-catching abandoned white house that stood lifeless in between two simple suburban homes. Two years later, in need of a new project, he traveled back to the house and began taking photographs for his portfolio A Houses Echo, which, as he describes, holds “portraits of a family who once lived in a house. A house that entangled their memories and possessions.” Two of these “portraits” are displayed in the New England Photography Biennial Exhibition at the Danforth Museum. Quinn’s 2010 works “Untitled 1” and “Untitled 5” prove that abandoned property is more than a mass of ruins; it is a record of the lives and stories of the souls that came and went. “Untitled 1” and Untitled 5” are 16 x 20 archival inkjet prints. The image “Untitled 1” shows the end of an empty hallway on the second floor of the house. A stair railing cuts through the center of the photograph and travels left, meeting the frame of a door that is barely open. The slight crack in this doorway reveals a small portion of what appears to be a flower vase on a dresser in a brightly lit room. The ceiling to the left is torn, uncovering a large area of its dark wooden frame. To the right of the unmasked portion of the ceiling, a quiet smoke detector hovers over what viewers can presume to be stairs below. Although the smoke detector is smaller in size, it remains prominent near the foreground of the picture plane. It is clear that a significant amount of paint is peeling off of the plaster ceiling, especially to the right. The focus of “Untitled 1” is on the wall facing the viewer. When I first saw the photograph, my eyes directly went to the vintage wedding dress Quinn hung on the left side of this wall with a wooden hanger. A closed door with its decorated frame stands next to it. Quinn uses photo manipulation to project a slide of one of the pictures left in the home. It is a vacation photo taken by a family who once lived in the house. In it, we see a lake with a reflection traveling towards brownish-black mountains topped with snow. Much of the wedding dress and the door are transparent, allowing the whole vacation photo to be visible. An antique light fixture accompanies a wide-open doorway on the right wall. The picture plane is confined to a relatively small space. It is mostly made up of straight lines, the majority of them being vertical or horizontal. The lines of the stair railing and the right and left walls create a directional force traveling from the foreground to the background. While observing the print, viewers will be able to notice a pattern of rectangles repeating throughout the image. There appears to be a monochromatic color scheme, based on the distribution of varying shades of white, along with the brown railing, ceiling wood, and stain in the lower corner of the right wall. This could also be considered a neutral color scheme. In “Untitled 5”, viewers see the interior corner of a room on the upper floor of the abandoned house. As with all of his photographs, Quinn staged this scene. He discovered three wooden picture frames lying on the floor and positioned them on the adjacent green walls that face the viewers. The unoccupied frames of different sizes surround a frame that holds a painted portrait of a young girl with light brown hair. She looks to be from the 1950s or ‘60s, and she wears a light blue sweater that matches the background. Light blue can also be seen in the far upper right corner, on the side of the slanted ceiling, which balances the photograph. An old radiator heater rests on mustard...
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