Lili Jamail is a photographer based in Texas and New York.
Scenes of the American Landscape at Team Gallery: Opening April 25th
Downstairs, Beyond at As Of Now Gallery: Opening January 25th 2019
Hunter College Thesis Group Show: Opening December 15th 2018
It was Henri Cartier-Bresson who described the quarry of photography as “the decisive moment.” For him, the power of the medium was its fullness, the way it could capture human life in a single image.
Lili Jamail does pretty much the opposite of that. What interests her is what the French call the hors-texte, that which is elsewhere, before or after. The subjects of her luminous portraits always look into the middle distance, unless their eyes are shut (just closed? about to open?). Her still life compositions are often filled with provisional traces: a sketch is held to the wall with blue tape; light streams, Vermeer-like, through a window. You can almost feel it about to dim as a cloud passes by.
When words crop up in Jamail’s pictures in ways that seem explanatory, the rest of the picture invariably calls that clarity into doubt. At the top of one photo is bold, hand-scripted lettering: HISTÓRIA. History, or a story. What’s underneath, though? A comic strip, surely an inadequate medium for clarifying whatever events are depicted. There’s just as much truth in the thin white spaces between frame as the cartoons themselves.
Doubles recur in Jamail’s pictures; as she points out, photography is always already a doubling, an attempt at mimesis that’s bound to fall short: “this medium is as close to reality as you can get, but there is always so much missing.” This philosophical interest in plays of presence and absence, has led Jamail to make an extraordinarily wide range of images. Some of them feel universal. One could imagine discovering them in an old photo album at home. Others are remarkable, not only for the scale and perfection of their printing, but the assertive formal intelligence of their compositions. The disparity of tone is amplified by her approach to installation; some pictures are hung on an eye-line, rendering them discrete, while others are arranged so as to create uncertain lines of connections from one to the next.
It is impressive how Jamail has defined an intellectual territory without slipping into the constraints of a signature style. Every great artist needs a great subject; hers seems to be the indecisive moment.
-Glenn Adamson is a curator and writer who works at the intersection of craft, design history and contemporary art.
Some themes I consider when photographing are touch, pain, emotion detectable in a subject in comparison to their external appearance [and the external world, mimesis within a photograph] sickness, human connection, and death.
I aim to focus on a person’s body position within a certain domestic or natural environment and it’s psychological effects within a photographic composition. These photographs use photography’s capture of a moment to display a sense of an extension of time within which we search for an origin and await an outcome. I portray floods of water, but not their source, my figures usually look away but seem about to turn toward the viewer, etc. This may lend a sense of waiting in suspended time for a death or a sickness to play out until the end. One important image for me includes the idea of holding your breath until the woman opens her eyes from a dream.
These photographs are trying to find something more to believe in than the physical body - what is left after or during an explosion. For example, the photograph of the edge of a cliff or, locking eyes for two people to share the same moment of being alive. I also focus on natural environments in which distance is blocked, which for me speaks to being stuck in places mentally and physically with no way out, although some views offer a way to escape.