“Why is this important? What does it all mean? Who cares about this idea?” The dog-eared list of terse queries framed by a paper folder in Anne Collier’s Questions (Relevance) suggests a viewer’s skeptical response to some new instance of art-world gimmickry. As a conceptual photographer whose deadpan aesthetic suggests objective documentation rather than the capturing of perfect moments or the production of expressive effects, Collier has surely been the target of such grilling from time to time. The fact that she’s capable of acknowledging such doubts indicates a self-deprecating wit, and while she may not be breaking new ground in her third solo appearance at this gallery, she consolidates her approach in fine style.
Collier’s constant theme is the way in which photography, far from being a neutral analogue of human visual perception, has always been weighed down by social, cultural and ideological baggage. To this end, she photographs objects that incorporate photographic images, sometimes depictions of cameras or camera gear. But what might collapse back into self-reflexive neutrality is tempered by a sharp awareness of the medium’s history and politics. Under an unforgiving light, she records a painfully sexist old Pentax ad and a set of vintage picture postcards that incorporate cameras into still-life arrangements of macho accessories, suggesting that these bits of evidence are still incriminating. As always, the coolness of Collier’s gaze is applied to distinctly “hot” subject matter, with pointed results.—Michael Wilson