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John Divola

American, b. 1949

Stray Dog #3

Gelatin silver print
30.75 x 26.75 in. (78.105 x 67.945 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

John Divola published his Four Landscapes portfolio in 1992, which contained Stray Dogs and three other thematic sets of pictures. Each set featured photographs of a relatively small, centrally positioned subject within some aspect of the California landscape: a lone dog on city streets; a boat far off the Pacific coast; an isolated house in the desert; tourists exploring Yosemite National Park. The scenes, as Divola has described them, reflect our yearning to connect with nature, to escape culture. Like a stray dog, we wander, though “the line we desire to cross is always beyond our reach.”

A native of Los Angeles, Divola has engaged for more than four decades with photography as a conceptual enterprise, a means of examining metaphor, perception, and misperception. He is intrigued by the artifice that permeates contemporary life and, like many of his generation, by the contradictions inherent in the photographic medium, the camera’s ability to record, distort, confuse, amuse, propose, and deny. The scenarios he shoots are often staged to play up these contradictions.

In Zuma, a landmark series from the late 1970s, he shot (in color) achingly beautiful sunsets and sunrises framed by the windows of a decaying, abandoned beach house whose walls he had spray-painted with anxious patterns. These photographs are records of Divola’s own performative actions upon a stage partially found and partially fabricated, images of both violation and affirmation. In As Far as I Could Get, a later body of work conducted with signature wryness, Divola photographed himself running away from his tripod-mounted camera, down a desert road, through a field, and up an alley. Each picture chronicled avid participation as well as de ant retreat, exploring a tension, found in Stray Dogs and even further back, between belonging and apartness, between acceptance and interrogating the terms of what is.

Leah Ollman

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