Friday, March 27, 2009

Andrea Modica's Treadwell

Photographs by Andrea Modica. Essay by E. Annie Proulx. Introduction by Maria Morris Hambourg. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1996. 88 pp., 40 duotone illustrations, 9¾x11½".

The images in Treadwell by Andrea Modica are at once haunting, tender, tragic and most of all, full of humanity.

The simple captions offer no clue to a narrative. The pictures themselves, many of which at first seem somewhat deadpan, slowly encourage us to open our hearts to a story that changes and offers up more mystery with each viewing. Only an artist whose subject has complete trust in them could get this wonderful collaboration that seems so natural.

The inhabitants of Treadwell are obviously poor, the parents rarely seem present, the children seem to be busy with common childhood fantasies and rituals that happen when they are left to their own. The photographer is allowed into this, at times unsettling, world and seems to be a participant, which allows us to reach back in our own childhood memories and identify with them. These images are not ruthless in objectivity like Arbus's pictures of kids - there's an underlying tenderness that makes us care about these folks.

While the pictures sometimes seem casual they are made with a large, heavy 8x10 inch view camera and meticulously contact-printed on hand-made platinum paper. You can imagine the difficulty in setting this camera up and getting such spontaneous looking images. You don't really think about this when confronted with the magic in the images.

The depth of field and focus are controlled with great finesse - sometimes with only a small part of the image in focus - other times corner-to-corner pristine crispness. It's this kind of vision and control that brings up such surprising details that can change the whole picture once you become aware of them. For example, in the cover image, the young girl at the left is holding a kitten up in a standing position by its front paws while she watches the young couple grope each other in the grass. You can ponder the meanings of an image like this endlessly, especially in the context of all the other equally evocative images in the book.

Andrea Modica Treadwell images at Edleman Gallery

Andrea Modica images at the Edwin Houk Gallery

She has published many other books which inlude Minor League - a selection of portraits of minor league baseball players, Barbara - A book of portraits of one of the main subjects of Treadwell, Real Indians - A book of commissioned portraits of Native American educators.

A google search will reveal a wealth of images and information about her amazing career.

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