"Harold's House" Photographs by Amanda Marrion Main Art Gallery Through Aug. 21
I didn't know Harold Sinclair, and I suspect not many people did. He apparently was a loner dwelling in isolation for many years in an old farmhouse at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Shut off from the world with no electricity and minimal human contact, I imagine Harold spent his 96 years quietly. I never knew this man, but now, owing to the sensitively expressed photographs of his home by Amanda Marrion, I feel I know Harold very well indeed. (Marrion, an M.F.A. student at Virginia Commonwealth University, is also a photo intern at Style.) Main Art Gallery's current exhibition of 20 of these photos, "Harold's House," offers the viewer a literal window into the peaceful, poetic and often poignant world of a man who chose to live in solitude.
Marrion's photographs of the interior of Harold's refuge capture a home that has been empty, untouched and unnoticed for the five years since Harold's death. Rusty cans, tattered fabrics, faded furniture and crumbling wallpaper clearly suggest the passage of time. But these images are not simple lamentations of a life once lived or sentimental glimpses into the past. Rather, the black-and-white prints seem to celebrate the beauty of personal things used in an everyday manner by an ordinary man. A can of tobacco, a gabardine button-down shirt, a well-worn leather suitcase, even an O'Keeffe-esque animal skull each object becomes a site for human activity and memory. Marrion's observant eye further investigates not only the objects themselves, but the quality they take as natural light moves across their surfaces.
The truly mesmerizing aspect of these photos is their ability to convey both presence and absence. A series of shots of empty rooms would seem to underline the absence of human beings and yet, nothing is further from the truth. In photo after photo, the very presence of Harold is made clear in his hats on the shelf, the indent on the cushion of his rocking chair, his boots lined up at attention, and old framed family photos strewn across a chair. The dust and decay tell us that time has passed; the immediacy of his most personal possessions argues that time is standing still. These reminders of human occupation are even evident in two shovels that lean against a wall like soldiers, surrogates now for a home devoid of living human beings.
The last photograph of the series depicts a decomposing cow head lodged between two rows of barbed-wire fence. One can only assume that this bovine face was discovered in the vicinity of the house and afforded the photographer the opportunity to emphasize her theme of decay, light and surface form, and the transience of time. The haunting head, a type of memento mori, or reminder of death, provides a powerful, even moralizing statement to conclude the series. Photography, however, ultimately has the advantage of making time stand still. Quiet and calm, Harold and his home have been rendered
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