Like all media, photography has its conventions and focus is one of the most firmly entrenched of these. Photographs are mean to be in focus. They’re meant to be sharp. It’s in the rules. But then, as any fool knows, rules are meant to be broken.
Bill Jacobson, then, is a serial breaker of rules.
The pictures in Jacobson’s series Interim Portraits, made in 1992-3, are soft, almost to the point of disappearance. The men seem to be fading into the images: their outlines are blurred, their features have diffused into a wash of white. They are between spaces, maybe between worlds. Subject and background are becoming one.
The disappearance of the image gives the portraits a sense of loss but there is also, in some of the images, a confrontational gaze that somehow permeates the fog. There is pain here and perhaps confusion.
On one level these are simple images – after all there is almost no image to read – but there is also a complexity to them that is born of the mixture of the loss and pain within the image and the absolute beauty of the ethereal whiteness.
The way in to this series is to consider the time and place in which the pictures were made. Jacobson is a New York based artist; the Interim Portraits were made in the early 1990s. Though others addressed the awful reality of the AIDS crisis very directly through photography – Nan Goldin immediately springs to mind – Jacobson’s pictures quietly but insistently record the overwhelming sense of loss and pain. That the images are very beautiful doesn’t make them any easier to look at.