X-TRA's Jason E. Hill Reviews "John Divola: As Far as I Could Get"

A review of "John Divola: As Far as I Could Get," by Jason E. Hill, X-TRA

John Divola’s career is defined by an inquiry into incident and photography’s astonishing yet inadequate aptitude in its precise description. An illustrative case can be found in the work for which his recent three-city Southern California survey was named, and whose long title contains within it one highly generative but seemingly insoluble contradiction. The title, As Far as I Could Get, 10 Seconds, 12_15_2010, 3:29 PM to 3:42 PM PST, 34.166301, -166.033714 (2010), corresponds to a large panoramic color photograph of a tight, apparently isolated cluster of tall desert trees, into or through which a man can be found to almost disappear as he flees the camera’s position. For this reprisal of a 1996 project (both versions were on view at Los Angeles County Museum of Art), Divola has set the self-timer of his digital camera to the once-conventional 10-second delay, triggered the shutter release, and bolted through the clearing in the small wood before him. It appears to be an elegant conceptual gesture: to make a photograph whose time is measured by its triggering subject’s traceable movement away from the camera in space. But the title’s attention to details and informational excess suggests that questions of photographic space and time might finally elude elegance. Just before concluding our reading with geo-coordinates situating the subject to about a meter’s accuracy just east of the intersection of Diamond Bar Road and North Star Avenue in Twentynine Palms, careful readers of this long title are confronted with the difficult premise that this giant photograph registering the ten-second mark in the photographer’s tree-ward dash sustained the full yawning stretch from 3:29 p.m. to 3:42 p.m.