Sonder, Raymond Meeks’ first exhibition at Casemore Kirkeby in San Francisco through August 17, 2019 features multiple projects centering on youth, adulthood, and the experiences that link them.
Exhibition Review by Roula Seikaly
Halfstory/Halflife, the series for which Meeks was named a finalist for the 2018 Photo Paris/Aperture Photobook of the Year Award, opens the installation. Over three years, he followed a group of teens through dense brush and forest to a single-lane bridge spanning the Bowery and Catskill Creeks near his Catskill Mountains home in New York.
Generations of young men and women have gathered at the site known as “Furlong” to leap from the 60 foot bridge, landing in an unseen pond and fulfilling a rite of passage for the brave or reckless. Theirs is a both a literal and metaphorical leap into the unknown. Before Meeks’ lens, lithe bodies humming with potential energy (Halfstory #692) give way to awkward, unbound forms (Halfstory #7543) that succumb to gravity’s pull.
Because most of the jumpers Meeks photographed are male, Halfstory #7325 (Two Sisters, Cobleskill, NY) stands out for its subject and aesthetic allure. The high blond pair call up graceful, enigmatic marble statues posted atop the Acropolis, bleached by time and witness to human accomplishment or failure. Meeks captures adolescence like a daguerreotype, committing heady youth to semi-permanent form before sunlight or age wipes it away.
Tension builds through the second gallery as the hubris tested at Furlong gives way to Middle Air, a 2009 series dedicated to Meeks’ son. While it’s not the close reading of childhood’s passage to adulthood represented in Pretty Girls Wander (2011), gridded photographs of the young man mowing a lawn signal the inevitability of work and responsibility that define adulthood.
Framed images and broadsides from the series Winter Farm Auction (1.2016, Mt. Gilead, OH) close the experiential cycle mapped out earlier in the exhibition. Captured on a wintery day in rural Ohio, the images report the dissolution of a small farm as tools and other goods are carried off by new owners. The burgeoning, overconfident young men leaping from the bridge meet their fully grown counterparts in images including Take it Away (2016). His back to viewers, the figure bundled in layers against the mid-western winter chill appears heavy footed, burdened as much by the boxes and bags tucked under his arms as the toll exacted by responsible adulthood.
Sonder is both of and outside the contemporary moment. It presents youthful thrill and naiveté as they ward off adult obligation, a cycle for the ages. It also speaks to an anxious unknown that shadows discussions of race, gender, education, and financial security in an ever-adjusting economic and cultural climate.