In the photographs of Todd Diederich, legs equal openness. Legs also equal sex, a willingness to really mess around with the materials, the elixir of life. Exposed at a concrete monument, legs are transformed by the onset of night; dangling out a second-story window, they also suffice. (“Ms. Wizgirl, Ashland and Erie”) Do not keep your body still, these photographs warn, but trust yourself into pleasure. Diederich’s first solo show at ACRE Projects called “WE” cracks open, cracks with mysteriousness and generosity.
While “WE” might initially look like another staid exhibition of street photography trying to convince us that every mode of living is right, Diederich’s photographs speak with a voice that actually believes in the beauty of living. This is no false trance! Cast into pure vision, you see his subjects as life-affirming, strong in the sense of themselves, proud of their continuing progress. Dress or costume is social. Posture or glance is pure construction. Diederich’s work seems different to me that that of Arbus’s or Weegee’s since there’s no residue of alienation or complicity, though the photographer is always a guilty accomplice. In an essay called “The Mind’s Own Place,” the poet George Oppen points to a line from a William Stafford poem that describes the poet’s real work. I think it aptly describes Diederich’s project: “Your job is to find what the world is trying to be.”
Notes on Three Photographs
Outfitted with leg warmers, a male dancer stretching.
Leg upward toward intelligent sky.
Fire and cracks and anonymous firecracker crotch.
Who pays for the rented window, Ms. Wizgirl?
Smoking car of ash and plume.
A volcano but street, you know?
Living without dead time is something important to this show. Viva la Revolución! And so, nothing is static here. And it’s not just the many scissorings of legs that guides you to this serious volupté. Suddenly a car door opens, exposing the interior of a car with a lazy ribbon of light. A bather finds herself at a quiet riverbank. Another bather—her male twin—loose in greenness, outruns palm fronds and civilization. (“Leo at Swimming Hole”) While the decadence and debauchery is reminiscent of French poetry from the late 19th century, these photographs care about the future, not dead-perfect beauty. Instead, they blaze-fire. I’m convinced there’s gunpowder and dynamite (think Cai Guo-Qiang) locksafe behind these photographs.
Take the “Legendary Leroy Kirk, House of Avant Garde” as a measure of such confrontational illumination. With five to six different gazes (the young man’s, the skull’s, the mirror’s, the light’s, the spiderweb’s, Diederich’s, ours…), the intensity of seeing becomes so great, you almost have to look away, and that’s when you most feel the striking matchsticks.
Then, the flowers come.
These photographs flash freedom, the dance of the collective, the potential force of an army of on-duty police. What do the boundaries do to us? To go anywhere, I think, and seek private pleasure in a public world. “No artist think(s) directly of beauty or seeks directly for / the beautiful…but thinks of illumination, of disclosure. / He is concerned with emotion, but of emotion which / Discloses / The blind emotion …what concerns the artist is that the thing exists—and he starts / with a ruined language… (Oppen, Daybooks II: II.) The sexed-up limbs in Diederich’s photographs suggest an entanglement democratic and spectacular. “WE” is a democracy of not just pretty faces ready to weather the warping hot/cold of the earth’s atmosphere—something Susan Sontag calls “time’s relentless melt”—but a group of adventurers on the search for the white gold of our eternal youth.