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Holly Lynton :: images | statement | bio | press release   | press mentions  

press mentions :: Holly Lynton | Solid Ground

No Safety Net: Photographer Holly Lynton captures the unprotected interactions of humans with the natural world. 


By Laura Holland 

Preview Massachusetts 


Sheep, tobacco barns, barehanded beekeepers, and a bird in the bush—it’s not simple subject matter that links Holly Lynton’s photographs together, but the way something deep within one image speaks to another. Rather than dry theory or didactic concept, Lynton’s photographic practice is guided by a push and pull between her desire to revisit scenes that reverberate for her and her openness to capturing totally unanticipated moments. Extending aspects of “Bare Handed”—an exploration of people who work with animals, but without any protective equipment—Lynton is now photographing sheep farmers and tobacco harvesters in Western Massachusetts.


Explaining how she defines her subject matter, she cites the example of Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose work is loosely connected but easily recognizable because the images consistently reveal how he sees the world. “It’s his vision,” she says. “And that’s my goal, to have that vision be what links the work.  For me, it’s just like a journey….”


Lynton’s journey through “Bare Handed” began in an earlier series, “Solid Ground,” which she describes as a “backyard safari.” Some of these photographs emerged from a confident spontaneity; others reconstruct intriguing moments from unusual angles.


“Limox” restages a moment when Lynton and a friend were drinking mojitos in the backyard. They went inside briefly and returned to find slugs crawling over their glasses.  “It was disgusting and fascinating,” she says. And she decided to recreate that experience—at slugs’ eye level.


Using sugar water as bait, Lynton collected slugs and set them loose until they wriggled into the composition she wanted. Slugs can move pretty fast, she marvels, so she had to be quick on the shutter.

“Emberizidae” recreates another scene, when a bird flew into a net over raspberry bushes and struggled frantically until it escaped. While the moment was short-lived, recreating it was elaborate. A mechanical bird didn’t look right, she says. So she hired a trained bird, eventually finding a bird trainer willing to work outdoors. Raspberries had to ripen, as aesthetically essential dots of intense red. And then it had to stop raining.


The rain finally stopped, the trained bird effectively fluttered, and Lynton had her photograph. But implications of a trapped bird sparked other considerations. “I was horrified with the possibility of killing a bird over a few raspberries,” she admits. She wanted, in contrast, to find people who worked with animals without harming them and without any defensive shield of equipment, making themselves vulnerable to nature. Her quest led to a beekeeper in New Mexico who works without protective clothing, and to fishermen [“noodlers”] in Oklahoma, who grasp hefty catfish in their bare arms.


“I like to allow myself a certain latitude and leeway to be open to spontaneity,” says Lynton, and one spontaneous moment came during the fishing photo shoot. “We were getting buzzed by mayflies,” she recalls, “and my assistant was really bothered by them. The noodlers joked, ‘You should take his picture.’” So she did, capturing a figure with shoulders hunched, succumbing to the onslaught of buzzing insects. And, she explains, “The little things beyond my control made the picture—the quality of the light, hair tufting up in the wind, the mayflies blurred to look like birds.”


“I didn’t intend “Bare Handed” to be all about creatures,” Lynton insists, adding that she was initially intrigued by the sense of danger and the idea that these people were confronting fear. “But after photographing them, I saw that they came to the situation with knowledge and they weren’t fearful. In their work, they were meditative. They were in the zone. And they approached the animals and the activity with a kind of reverence.”


With her move to Western Massachusetts and a studio in North Leverett, Lynton is more engaged in local farming and, she says, “how aspects of meditative activity are involved in farming.”  But she also looks for drama and fantasy—and symbolism, as seen in “Sienna, Turkey Madonna, Shutesbury.” Along with visual allusions to a Renaissance Madonna, the image portrays the young woman’s strong connection to the animals and her ability to calm the turkeys. Moments before the photograph, however, the scene was anything but serene when an agitated turkey whacked another turkey farmer in the face. The balance of power and dominance is also a theme in Lynton’s images—sometimes a shifting balance, as seen with the mayflies.


Are the tobacco barn images an extension of “Bare Handed” or a separate series? Certainly, there are significant differences between honeybees and tobacco plants. But there are also similarities, seen in the practice of harvesting by hand rather than with large-scale industrial machinery, and in the crop’s vulnerability to nature. “Despite the fact that tobacco is a plant,” she points out, “it all fits.”


Currently Lynton is making photographs of people who work with sheep, including a fifteen-year-old girl who raises lambs for meat and a sheep shearer who wrestles 175-pound rams. “I don’t want to make cute pictures of sheep,” she declares, “so darkness comes out in the images…” In some, the sheep emerge from darkness with an aura of light—a halo effect suggesting a classic religious symbol of purity—to evoke “mythic or mythological” aspects, and not a documentary record.


Lynton emphasizes that she’s not looking at local farms as a photojournalist. “In the tobacco barns, I’m not looking to convey the nitty-gritty of the harvesting process, but the mystery of the atmosphere,” she says. “If I was taking a photo-documentary approach, I would show what the work is. But I’m looking for something more fantastical.”

Lynton’s colors have a saturated intensity that conveys a heightened sense of awareness. Floods of atmospheric light and unusual angles also contribute to a fantastical quality.


“I look for contrasting elements, and I always have a response to light,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll want the light in one [image] and the figure in another, but that would be painting, not photography.”

Eschewing Photoshop and digital manipulation, Lynton finds her images as she frames them, waiting with patience and confidence, and working without a safety net.

Holly Lynton 


by Vince Aletti 


The New Yorker 


Exploring the possibilities for fantasy in her own back yard, Lynton turns it into a wild kingdom for a series of color photographs that assume the point of view of a playful and inquisitive child. Lynton’s nearly naked little girl and a bare-chested friend take on a fairy-tale presence in a landscape rendered mysterious by worm’s-eye-view closeups. He’s a giant seen through a scrim of leaves; she’s a sprite, crouching to catch a sprinkler’s spray in her mouth. But some of the most intriguing images are unpopulated: a tunnel in the snow; a bird caught behind the netting on a raspberry bush; leaves, petals, dead bees, and dry ice floating in a plastic pool. 


Voice Choice Short List 


by Vince Aletti 


The Village Voice


Holly Lynton It’s a familiar story: the young (in this case, 27) female Yale grad (’94) whose staged color photographs flirt provocatively with issues of sex, desire, identity, and self-determination. But Holly Lynton isn’t likely to get lost in the crowd; the 22 images in her first New York solo show are so subtle, accomplished, and ambiguous they’re hard to forget. The artist herself, deceptively girlish, appears in the pictures, most often along with a stocky older man who lets her ride piggyback and dance with her bare feet on his shoes but whose sexual aura is hardly fatherly. Full of tentative gestures and thwarted heat, Lynton’s work knows more than it tells. Through April 29, Kathryn Markel Fine Arts 560 Broadway, at Prince Street, 226-3608 (Aletti)


Solid Ground—John Reed on Holly Lynton


by John Reed 




The big story is this: you have a desire, whether it is something you should have or something you shouldn’t and you chase your desire, but to attain it, you must overcome who you are; you must either grow past your limitations, or find out what your true limitations are. When you have overcome—preferably a sin or a fault—you are redeemed.


Nowadays, the assumption is, that’s narrative. In fact, it is a Western construct, and usually a Christian one. That stories have beginnings, middles and ends—that stories have sin, redemption, salvation—has very little to do with the stories that we encounter in life. The epic, winding stories of mythology, the pure suffering of the classical stage: while these narratives are drawn on to bolster credibility of the contemporary model, they are not indicative of the stories we tell today. Even in “hard news”, one is pressed to find a story that doesn’t start with a conflict and end with a ray of hope. 


In Holly Lynton’s series of photographs, “Solid Ground”, the narratives are the solitary moments in our lives when we mark time. There are instants that are complete narratives in themselves, when we are suddenly aware of our wholeness, and the transience of that wholeness. That is the epic of living: these moments, strung together, hung over the hours like beads from a Christmas tree. 


Dog prints on a rust-colored carpet, a child fleeing through the leaves, or drinking from a sprinkler. A visual story is rich. Mark: the grain of the carpet, the inherent timbre of the dog’s steps; Supernal: the wet leaves adhering to wet skin, the lilt of a leg bearing a child’s weight; Plim: the dimpled knee, the distant dandelion. 


Throughout the 19th century, the English-speaking world abounded with illustrated newspapers. With this medium, illiterate readers, or marginally literate ones, could glean complex stories through illustration alone. For all of our cultural visual acumen, we have lost the ability to read stories in images. To a viewer of Renaissance painting, the story was implicit. Today, the presumption is that the image will serve a written story; the Pixar movie is a visualization of the world, and has no weight behind it. I.e.: the swimming turtle is sad and confused. 


Lynton’s assertion: photography, despite all the encroachment of computer graphics and digital film, remains the primary medium of visual storytelling. In “Solid Ground,” the density of theme, of setting, of emotion, is the stuff of great sagas. Emotional realization—like the end page of a novel—is a fostering of contemplation, even study. As we drift through the void, wondering where our shining knights and happy endings are hiding, it is that instant in the backyard, with the light dappled on a man’s back (Mansuetude), that brings clarity to our every anxious question. 


Art Guide Review


by Ken Johnson 


The New York Times 


HOLLY LYNTON, Though not much to look at one at a time, Ms. Lynton’s glossy color photographs together create an obliquely diverting narrative about two men and a young woman (the artist herself). Always shown in fragmentary views, the threesome appear to be enjoying a romantic, triangulated interlude in the country. 


Holly Lynton 


by Margery Gordon




The photographs of Holly Lynton are at once frankly familiar and subtly mysterious. She has a way of infusing mundane moments with the wonder of childhood, so that the imagery evades easy explanation. 


This show surveyed three series made seperately over the last dozen years in New York, where the artist lived and worked until a recent move to Massachusetts. The earliest C-prints of the “In-Between” series establish her penchant for skewed perspectives, restrained use of color, and tight, unusual framing that crops out context. The viewer becomes voyeur, invited to witness the intimate interactions of Lynton with male figures whose relationship to her is ambiguous. In a 1998 sequence of power plays, Untitled #3 [lifting skirt] shows her legs straddling a prone man’s shoulders as her outstreched skirt straddles his face; in Untitled #4 [lifted], his extended arms hold her horizontal body aloft in a game of airplane more commonly associated with a father and daughter than with adult lovers.


Roles are further confused by Lynton’s compact stature and youthful visage, which she uses to her advantage in the close-ups of the “Mean Ceiling” series, featuring her partly obscured, enigmatic expressions. Snow covers her lips and dusts her skull in February (2004); sand encrusts her closed eyelids in June (2004).


Nature is also an active force in the “Solid Ground” series, where soil, grass, and foliage set an untamed stage for domestic drama. The girl-woman protagonist of the earlier works has become a mother. A fair-haired child charms the audience with arms outstreched in a joyous gesture in I Love Monday (2005), which takes its title from the message imprinted on the child’s underpants. Whimsy gives way to more sinister phenomena in Supernal (2004), as little legs appear about to float skyward, grounded only by a disembodied hand emerging from fallen leaves.