so the story goes
The Art Institute of Chicago  
  tina barney
September 16 - December 3, 2006 philip-lorca dicorcia
nan goldin
sally mann
larry sultan

Tina Barney
Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Nan Goldin
Sally Mann
Larry Sultan
Recommended Reading


    DeBruce, 1999 Hartford, 1980
    Hartford, 1978 Hartford, 1989

    For his 2003 project A Storybook Life, Philip-Lorca diCorcia selected 76 photographs spanning three decades of his career, presenting them in a specific order. Conceived as neither a single body of work nor a mere sampling of past photographs, A Storybook Life instead constructs its meaning and narrative in part through the juxtaposition of images, which encourage a kind of free association. Unlike diCorcia’s other projects, for which he hired models or photographed strangers on the street, almost all of the subjects peopling these pictures are drawn from his own life. Despite the real connections such intimate subjects might suggest, however, the title of A Storybook Life mimics fiction, or as other scholars have noted, even the fantasy of a fairytale.

    DiCorcia began exploring his family as a photographic subject during the 1977 Christmas holiday at home in Hartford, Connecticut. These carefully planned but completely banal scenes enlisted his family as characters in seemingly narrative tableaus. Some of the images read like a scene extracted from more complete narratives, such as a depiction of diCorcia’s brother towering over a mid-century studio apartment covered in the white dust of ceiling repairs, with its blinds taken down, light sockets exposed, and couch upturned. Other photographs are more ambiguous, creating anticipation about what comes next. In the opening image of A Storybook Life, diCorcia’s father rests on a bed—possibly asleep after watching television—a tweed hat and duffle bag at his feet, an incongruous stuffed animal by his side, and a partially empty glass of white wine on the bedside table.

    The final image in the project shows his father, again prone, lying in his casket against the far wall of a typical funeral home room, with endless yards of curtains and nondescript décor bathed in a warm, pink light. This final photograph was taken just one year after the opening one; yet other settings, people, and years collide in the tale diCorcia has arranged between these two images. Whatever their personal significance to the artist, diCorcia makes no claims about what effect his personal photographs will have on viewers. Instead, they serve as an exploration of the emotional effect of image after image. The narrative sequence, then, is as deliberate as it is opaque, offering only suggestions about its possible meaning.

    Partly, diCorcia confounds viewers’ expectations of photographs, or more specifically of images in a seemingly narrative sequence, by limiting access to information. In amassing A Storybook Life, diCorcia chose not to reveal his personal associations to the subjects, instead providing only the dates and locations of the photographs. After all, photography’s persuasive relationship to realism and documentation is continually in tension with its equally potent capability for fantasy and artificiality. A Storybook Life foregrounds individual perception and, more precisely, how that perception invests the photographs with fluid, variable meanings. And, as meaning shifts and morphs in relation to each viewer’s own condition, the narrative continually alters, in flux, and upended. As diCorcia’s storybook life interacts with our own, a new fable begins.


    Web site

    Pace/MacGill Gallery


    Philip-Lorca diCorcia. Museum of Modern Art, 1995, 2003.

    Streetwork. Universidad de Salamanca, 1999.

    Heads. Steidl, 2001.

    A Storybook Life. Twin Palms Publishers, 2003.

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