Casemore Kirkeby is pleased to present Stasis, Corridors: 1969-1980, an exhibition spanning several bodies of work and photographic approaches pursued by Steve Kahn between 1969 and 1980. The exhibition acts as a timeline, covering a critical point of evolution for Kahn as a photographer, a time when he transitioned from documentary photography to the more conceptual constructs of modern photography. Notable transitions from this time period appear in Early Work, Stasis, The Hollywood Suites, Triptychs/Quadrants, and Door/Window Constructions, concluding with Corridors in 1980.
Kahn was part of a generation of photographers coming out of Los Angeles in the 1970s that included Robert Heinecken, Ilene Segalove and Jerry McMillan, among others. They brought a conceptual and collage approach to photography, breaking away from the pure documentary impulse toward an interest in how photographs create meaning. As part of a pivotal moment in the history of contemporary photography, Kahn’s transition from the role of observer into the conceptual realm of abstraction is apparent through the directional concerns of the work hand-selected by Kahn for this exhibition. For Kahn, the process quickly became the entrance to a void with “no exit,” one in which a picture could function as a conceptual surrogate for an object well beyond the immediate act of looking. The found constructs determined the suggestive field of perception, and ultimately a deeper interpretation of space, form, and content.
Stasis (1973-1974), a collection of 22 black-and-white photographic constructions that resulted in a titular monograph, marked a new photographic freedom for Kahn, with the allowance to take bold risks with shutter speed, exposure and content. The results superimposed time on the element of place, thus resisting chronology. As Kahn noted, “I thought I’d let the camera record an event over time — an event of which I established the limits. In that formal arena, subjective activity would play out its scripts. Perhaps I could learn from the experience. From this work I created a portfolio of images of a blurred reality. This marked my departure from traditional photographic concerns.”
By the mid-1970s Kahn had accepted a role as commercial photographer for a bondage magazine, his work taking place in sporadically procured transient motel rooms. Addressing the idea of containment and isolation in such environments lead Kahn into a further theoretical realm, challenging the interior construction and degenerative state in the physical placement of wall treatments, windows and doorways. This discovery overlapped Kahn’s earlier interest in the risk of photographic abstraction, leading him to “explore the contained through the container.” These are straightforward, formal photographs, direct in their resolution and bringing the constrictive methodology of his process firmly to the front. Elements seen in the pictures suggest the theatrical, the camera acting as part of the production in its obvious limitation, confirming a restrictive scope and scale through simple image collection.
The final body of work during these formative years reaffirmed Kahn’s interest in information collection through photographic process. Corridors (1979-1980) was originally produced as quadrants of the same image, operating as conjunctive elements in Kahn’s architectural syntax. Kahn photographed the hallways in color-print Polaroid and copied each onto 4” x 5” transparency material.
Stasis, Corridors 1969-1980 is the final exhibition built during Kahn’s lifetime and exposes a distinct trajectory of his dedication to process—creating conceptual voids through the admittedly familiar, and circumventing both traditional and documentary photographic strategies by challenging the medium through experimentation.
Steve Kahn (born Los Angeles, 1943-2018)
Kahn’s works are in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Contemporary Art (LACMA); the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Houston Museum of Fine Arts; the High Museum, Atlanta; and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, among others. His monograph The Hollywood Suites 1974-76 was published by Nazraeli Press in 2014 and a book of his photographs of chemical plants made in the 1980s will be published in 2018. Kahn will be the focus of a retrospective exhibition at The de Young Fine Art Museum, San Francisco, September 2018.