Fall 2004, pp. 148-9
by Louise Wolthers
Lisa Klapstock: Threshold
Galleri Image, Åarhus, Denmark
May 1-21 , 2004
Lisa Klapstock’s series Threshold
brilliantly tricks the viewer into awareness of both his or
her own expectations of pictures and photography in general.
Klapstock has photographed gaps and knotholes in Toronto alleyway
walls and fences, behind which people’s backyards are
usually hidden. Our gaze is drawn to the fragment of space
beyond the divide where a chair, a window or shrubs can be
glimpsed. Attempts to render these fragments symbolically
significant or to establish any rational sense of space, however,
fail with the realization that the subjects beyond the cracks
are not the point of the images.
The small pictures within pictures remind us of looking through
a telescope in reverse, pushing the object further away rather
than bringing it closer. Klapstock’s focus is the threshold—the
boundary between public and private, which raises themes related
to the isolation of city life. The images make us wonder if
the walls represent enclosure or exclusion. The threshold
dominates the image and accentuates the visual barrier between
foreground and background, which is simultaneously dissolved
by the shallow depth of field, resulting in a merging of the
two realms into a single, almost abstract surface.
Klapstock uses a macro lens and enlargements that provide
us with a view denied the average pedestrian in the back alleys
of Toronto. However, she does not zoom in on private details.
The openings appear as opaque specks in a field of colour,
reining in any mimetic reading of the photographs. In presenting
themselves as non-figurative images, the photographs can be
seen in relation to experiments in 20th-century abstract painting.
The approach emphasizes Klapstock’s interrogation of
the traditional expectation that photography serves as a window
onto the world. The medium is not merely an extension of the
human eye; the elements of the image, and its surface, also
determine the meaning of the photograph.
The hole shapes that recur in the images are reminiscent of
the pinhole camera. The “natural camera,” as it
was once known, was an expression of the desire for images
that matched what the human eye observed and which were thought
to provide an unmediated, objective view of reality. Furthermore,
the unfocused fences form an amorphous membrane, like the
skin that separates bodies from the world. Threshold thus
has a transitory quality. It rejects the point of view of
the universal spectator capable of surveying everything from
a fixed position. Non-monumental, Klapstock’s photographs
seem to say that the world can never be absorbed in its entirety,
but rather reveals itself in unexpected glimpses.
In the midst of the blurred foreground the sharp subject in
the aperture is like a prick or shock—terms that have
also been used by theorists like Roland Barthes and Walter
Benjamin to describe the invasive immediacy of the photographic
medium. By exploring boundaries with her camera, Klapstock
makes us aware of perceptual limitations. She identifies sight
as a fallible source of information and investigates the voyeurism
associated with the photographic act.