Dark Thread by Henry Wessel

Died last September, Henry Wessel leaves an indelible mark in the history of photography and American cinema. The characteristic technique of his work was to find a plot in the form of a short story from his images, always taken in the right place at the right time. His series A Dark Thread had, moreover, challenged writers to make a story of it; she is here exposed for the first time. An opportunity to present the narrative work of this great amateur of black films, his work reflects the fantasy story of reality, with constantly the potential of a scenario.  It’s up to everyone to imagine a story based on the mysterious and bright light, landscapes of Northern and Southern California !

The exhibition highlights three series. Unlike a storyboard, Incidents follows Henry Wessel’s precise order, according to a process of visual correspondence that was dear to him. Sunset Park brings together nocturnal shots, inviting you to dive into the mysterious atmosphere of Californian nights. Finally, still following a set of visual reconciliations, Henry Wessel had begun, before his death in September 2018, to reconstitute with the teams of the MEP the third series of the exhibition: A Dark Thread, presented in this form for the first time.His unique and mysterious universe is reflected in all his images, as a « black thread » linking them to each other. 

  • Henry Wessel on Photography and the mind « I try and work before my mind is telling me what to do » 

Wessel strives to bring forth concepts to life during artistic creation; he emphasizes the importance of trusting one’s artistic instinct as a kind of animal reflex, and not giving the brain the leisure to dictate the process, because the latter is constantly trying to strive towards a perfection that ruins the authenticity of the truly desired work, at the stage of contemplation, He also highlights the controversy between our natural interest in the surrounding environment and our innate desire for conceptualization. For Wessel, it’s better to see without recognizing. 
He cares and talks often about the importance of the present moment, because most of us, at the sight of a photograph, emit the wish to go in such a place and to photograph such a moment but this one does not exist anymore, what we wanted to capture is part of the past so indeed, we will photograph something else, which is not necessarily bad work, a lot of people do it that way but it is not what interested us initially, it’s not the desired feeling, it’s something else. 

He gives the example of the difference between the first shots taken on the spot, and the dozens of others who follow, for the « perfect » angle and who are there to obey the brain and not the instinct of the artist. « It’s like when you take five or six pictures of the same stuff, the first ones, you can see how different they are, then the ones when your mind gets in there, when he got in there,  they start to look like photographs that you already know, they look like problems you’ve already solved, they are never taking you to a place that’s unfamiliar, they are taking you to what you are supposed to do, then they look like everybody else’s photographs” interview of Henry Wessel for SEMOMA

« I could feel myself changing physically. It was like something dropped out of the sky. Seeing her on the fire escape had given me a certain feeling, and then when I saw the photograph of her, it gave me a similar feeling. And I thought that was an incredibly powerful thing – that a photograph could give you a feeling that was similar to a feeling you had in the physical world. Nobody could’ve told me that. I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life. »
-Henry Wessel-

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