Susan Lipper recently gave an ICP audience a new reason to appreciate her photographic work. Yes, she presented some five projects individually—starting with the posed 1983 portraits of fellow Yale art students and ending with her new installation of video portraits from Grapevine, West Virginia, juxtaposed against small black and white landscapes of wilderness. In between, were Lipper’s seminal photobooks Grapevine (1994) and trip (2000) – a collaboration with the writer Frederick Barthelme. What was new, and incredibly entertaining at times, was how the five, seemingly, disparate projects (including a series of collaborative dyptychs visible on her website ) became a cohesive body of work as Lipper identified their common elements.The story-teller in the photographer explored her subjective description of America emphasizing that portraits can be “both a description of person, a relationship to the photographer, the viewer, and finally the culture that contains them”. Other elements included the sometimes confrontational role of image and text, and the notion that that which is NOT there is important, too. The context of an image being all important.
Lipper suggested that studies in English literature, Yeats, romantic poetry and the transcendental sensibilities of Thoreau and Emerson influenced her work as well as her long tenure in remote Appalachia. Her decision to become a visual artist, she told the audience, was not there from the beginning. Now we know why.