“If the photographer looks intensely enough, [they] can find the secret images of our fears, joys and desires. Everything is speaking to us – every object.”
—Clarence John Laughlin
Looking intensely is an important, but strangely underrated, practice in contemporary photography. As Laughlin reminds us, it is through the act of looking intensely that we can begin to understand ourselves and the world around us. When we are very young, we do almost nothing but look. Consequently, we learn at an incredible rate in the early stages of life. As we age, learning and recognition becomes habitual, and looking becomes a cursory process. We look, we think we know, and we move on.
Walker Pickering (born 1980) is still paying very close attention to the things around him, and in his body of work, Nearly West, he draws our attention to various compelling remnants of human history: a children’s slide in a forest, a solar powered American flag light, building signage, motels, and empty parking lots. In some cases, Pickering presents a distant past (the slide is rusting and the flag light faded) in others, however, it appears that we have stumbled upon a recently—and suddenly—vacated space. All of these pictures embody a haunting and surreal sense of place and history, emphasizing the strangeness of the worlds that we create, populate, and then leave behind. Clarence John Laughlin often went out of his way to manipulate, distort, double, and stretch his subjects in order to impart a kind of psychic energy, to stress the surreal. Pickering, whose images are straight—if beautiful—transcripts of actual places, reminds us that the world is often strange enough as it is.
Freeman Family Curator of Photographs
New Orleans Museum of Art
Walker Pickering writes about his project: “As a child, I was fortunate to spend time with my father while he lived in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. This instilled in me a great sense of adventure, where travel has been formative to my work, and caused me to seek out the exotic among the ordinary. My long-term project, Nearly West, is a journey through the land of my childhood, re-imagining places my ancestors lived and experienced.”