Possession marks something of a departure for photographer Jason Langer. In his images of people he conspicuously turns his focus away from the investigation of an individual’s personality in favor of details that suggest a more generic or universal identity. A waitress is photographed from the back, the white bow of her apron exquisitely tied; the silhouette of a gentleman in overcoat and fedora stands beneath an American flag; a singer croons into a 40s-era microphone, his eyes obscured in shadow. Langer’s subjects remain anonymous, aspiring as they do to the status of the iconic.
Langer turns his interest in the universal inside-out when photographing inanimate objects, the effect of which can sometimes verge on the supernatural. Freud famously associated the idea of the “uncanny” with uncertainty. More than just producing an experience of fear, the uncanny requires an encounter with a facsimile of the real. Puppets, automatons, mannequins, and human doppelgängers of all kinds exist at the intersection of the real and the imaginary, and in their life-likeness they can disturb our sense of what we consider familiar and ordinary. Just so, for his Possession series Jason Langer offers the spectator an uncanny intimacy with objects that appear life-like, that blur the line between the animate and the inanimate.
No matter the subject, Langer’s photographs are marked by a haunted sense of foreboding and pregnant possibility. Langer follows in the tradition of the flâneur-photographer. His images are, as he puts it, the product of “walking the streets alone as a stranger in a strange land.” To shadow Langer on his walks is to visit the haunts of amusement parks, lonely bars, nighttime streets and alleys, beautiful women and their chaperones, gardens, hotels, and supper clubs. Both the still life and the intimate figure study are frequent objects of his quiet gaze. Regardless of their subject, Langer's images return us to a place where what happens in front of the lens is unanticipated and distinctly photographic.
Unlike most of Langer’s photographs of people, his portraits of objects, by contrast, take full interest in the faces and feelings of the things themselves. We’re made, for example, to look wonderingly into the dark eyes of a boy painted with a Mona Lisa smile. A puppet’s eyes, however, glare down at us menacingly, its lips parted mid-breath. Even one of Langer’s headless mannequins seems to slouch with disaffection away from its more stylishly dressed friends. “I am drawn to the human emotions in things,” Langer says. “And for this series my approach has been to capture them like a researcher collecting specimens.”
If an exploration of the personal and felt world of objects is new territory for Langer, his photographic approach remains the same. Like the images in his first monograph, Secret City, the palette of Possession predominates in rich, moody blacks lending an aura of mystery and risk to his subjects which typically exist in a state of only partial illumination. Even in his photographic explorations of the human body, he avoids the staged tableaux so common in much of contemporary photography. Whether they be figure studies, street scenes or images of inanimate objects, Langer’s images strive always to capture the unanticipated or chance moment, layered with timeless drama and dynamism.
Neither directing the placement or look of his subjects, nor complacent to capture them in the banal light of the everyday, Langer searches out the cracks in ordinary reality in order to expose the mystery and wonder of having a body and of finding our place in a surreal world.
John Hill, 2011