When We Slow Down to Look
Memories of 2020 will always be uncomfortable ones. To varying degrees, we can never forget the uncertainties, fears, and isolations that defined the year of the COVID outbreak.
As a result of the necessary upeneding of our usually hasty daily routines, our lives unexpectedly slowed down to a rest point forcing us to comply with the limits of our immediate surroundings. In reaction to this new dynamic and in order to maintain the activity of our creative muscles as well as to keep our sanity in check, we started looking at what is around us, what we so far disregarded or passed by in a hurry. While exploring environments within close proximity we reconnected with our landscape and our communities developing a new appreciation for life's small pleasures.
Such is the set-up of Caroline Gutman's collection Beautiful Strangers. In her daily walks around her neighbourhood Bernal Heights in San Francisco, Caroline explored hidden trails, side alleys and appealing driveways. As the pandemic prolonged with every next month, Caroline's strolls became a ritual with the constancy of practice that allowed her to define her motivation and refine her photographic approach. Photographs from Beautiful Strangers are not merely captures of interesting scenes and objects, they are acts of communication and attempts of conversations in times of social distance and solitude.
Although picturing specimens of nature and objects of architecture, none of those is the actual subject of this collection. The focus of the photographer's attention, behind the pretty flowers and cute home fronts, is people. Trough seeking her neighbours' endearing quirks, Caroline is trying to understand them, to befriend them. She assumes their personalities by the colour of their house or the choice of their decorative plants and then reacts with the way she shoots those expressive traits.
The light in the images is distinctly Californian and as such brings in the warmth and the sense of texture giving the mundane scenarios poetic sensibility. In image number ten, for example, the soft glow of the afternoon sun implies intimacy and fills the scene with an emotional charge. Similarly, in image number ten, the mellow shade soothes the sight in order to gently handle the delicate emotion of pink colour. It is obvious that Caroline knows the light deeply and works with it pretty closely so the interplay of that relationship strikes as a beautifully choreographed dance.
As much as her pictures note the beauty in the urban environment and celebrate the intrinsic human need for expression through ornamentation, they attest to the necessity of communication, belonging and creation for every individual of the collective that we are.