ON WISCONSIN – Review by Wally Mason, Director and Chief Curator,
Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University
In Mark Brautigam’s recent photographs there is a beautiful sense of suspended time. The ongoing series On Wisconsin asks the receiver to slow down more than many would or could. His beauty is a percipient reveal, infused by a quiet confidence of modest proclamations. If it could be said that a photographer and their work are similar, to look at his images is to know Mark. The pictures seem to have always existed; they bear the mark of a point of view, benefitting from the photographer getting out of the way so that we can just enjoy the view.
Alvin, WI is typical of a Mark Brautigam image. It has all the elements that reveal his quiet consideration of a scene seemingly left only for him to photograph. Throughout On Wisconsin he has taken pictures of things we don’t think to look at – and then makes us wonder how we missed them. As one spends more time with the image, the benefits of the large negative reveal every blade of grass and woven strand of the chairs.
Its not that all this is terribly interesting but these details eventually add up to the point where the acrid smell of the fire from last night still lingers. The captured moment is so richly expressive of human strivings and pleasures and foibles that the actual presence of people seems beside the point. The image is open-ended and specific simultaneously. Mark seems destined to seize moments that are at the locus of something that has or might happen, equally at home with nothing or too much. The image makes you feel like you should have seen what he saw, a meditation that ennobles the ordinary. As Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
ON WISCONSIN – Review by Larry Watson
The human eye is a narrative-making organ, though that function is not always turned on and is unpredictably activated. Of all the images we take in during the course of a day, only a few truly stop us. I don’t mean the freakish or contrived sights – the man with the pet tarantula on his shoulder or the woman in the dress made of Post-It notes – but those everyday images that suddenly arrest our attention, that we look at and that somehow look back at us and make us feel there’s a story here.
This is what occurs repeatedly when we look at Mark Brautigam’s photographs. We see something, and no matter how ordinary the sight might be – a group of sunbathers somehow isolated even in their own company, an old woman raking her garden, a horse turned toward us with an almost-human gaze – our own imaginations have been unexpectedly set into motion. The stories behind these pictures probably can’t be known, but that doesn’t matter. Confronted with these photographs we feel a significance that accompanies the best narratives, even if that significance can’t be fully articulated.
Just as stories have both character and setting, Mark Brautigam’s photographs direct us to people and places. Is it possible to look at that man standing outside a Superior, Wisconsin, bar and not wonder about his life – and the building’s? Has there ever been a storyteller who has conjured a setting as beautiful and mysterious – yet as commonplace – as that simple white house, lit with butter-yellow light and surrounded by the deep dark blues of snow and night sky? What must it be like to live in one of those monochrome, buff-colored buildings that huddle under the water-tower word “Luck”? These are quiet, subtle images, but they have remarkable expressive power.
This ability, to make us question and to feel, to lodge visions in our minds that stick, is Mark Brautigam’s great talent. Of course craft is involved, the camera and its settings, the photographer’s patience with light and shadow, but first is the artist’s sensibility. This is Mark Brautigam’s gift, and it travels from his eye to ours.