News
11.21.2013
Portfolio> Daniel Faust
Photographer Daniel Faust turns his camera on urban details in Morocco.
Daniel Faust

Daniel Faust’s suite of photographs, Morocco, forces the eye upward. We crane our necks and lose the ground. A latticed tower, a building top flag, and a crown of streetlights ascend, making the sky their strict field of action. And then we go up too, releasing some pressure as our sights settle in the heights of twin suspended lamps, held from a ceiling of highly patterned white, and a fluorescent bar, glowing and blurring its rich red roof. A general buoyancy prevails, even shoes float with little visible support. It’s a kingdom in the real world, of course, we know, but here it’s a kingdom of air.

Faust’s practice, since the 1980s, occurs through a research model. Investigating topics (lost museums, lost technology) or locales (Alaska, South Africa, Morocco here), his work eschews the singular snapshot for the sustained view. There are correspondences to be found in each body of work, links that demonstrate the documentary in a new way. Each place, subject, and encounter should find its fellow, and through that pairing, ask the viewer to scramble the expected. His series span scenes close and far from home, but in both the images ask us to know more.

Like all of his projects, Morocco is a field of reflections, where mirrors and glass switch our perspectives and expose interiors fractured via bricks or resolved in circles. We see unavailable spaces or find the scenes just behind us obscured from view. We also see his interest in rhyming, as distinct lines, color blocks forming lines, all those diagonals, and different fields of boxes enter a conversation. His interest: what are they saying, together? Maybe something about drawing, and the way these spaces demonstrate a kind of deep architectural plan for everyday life. There’s something here too about writing, the lines of the loom and the lines of the book pointing to those long or short straightaways that make carpets, towers, books, and meaning.

Western art history has always had a horror but also a fascination with its rival traditions in the East: our perspective and figuration and modeling against their seeming flatness, pattern, and all-over design. Critic Dave Hickey in his Air Guitar, and art historian David Batchelor in his Chromophobia, speak to this history well. In Faust’s view of this most western locus of that eastern tradition, I find myself facing again that fascination (if not that horror) in very personal ways. The French theorist Roland Barthes once noted that powerful photography of place makes you want to live there, wherever that image might be. So I want to knock on the red door Faust shows here. I want to read his central book. I want to look in the mirror. And I think Morocco invites us to see a strong, local aesthetic, and to do our homework. The kingdom is there, but we are not.

Frank Smigiel

Frank Smigiel is the Associate Curator for Public Programs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He is currently co-curating Public Intimacy, a show about recent photography, performance, and publications in South Africa, which will open at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in February 2014.