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Matinee: 'Robert Christensen' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

3 January 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the sixty-sixth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Robert Christensen.

New Mexico PBS produced this elegant seven-minute video of the work of Robert Christensen. For 40 years, Christensen has photographed buildings that "looked back at him" as if they were portraits reflecting "the rugged and independent spirit of New Mexico."

We had the feeling, right from the start, that these were familiar places, buildings we'd been in, although we've never been to New Mexico.

That's by design, Christensen explains. He was inspired by Paul Strand who said a portrait should give you the feeling that you know the person without ever having met them.

They are, he admits, of a different era. Before building codes standardized much of construction. And when poverty was the mother of invention, families starting a store when they couldn't find work.

In the black and white prints of these weathered buildings, their facades crumbling, their signage pleading, you can still detect the life of a town and a time that has passed into history.

He tells interesting stories about a few of the photos. A gas station, a pair of garage doors, a drive-in marque. Knowing the story behind the image only reinforces the sense of them as a portrait.

The past that Christensen captures reflects the present like a mirror. The scrawled signs and images and architecture resonate with our own memories, making them familiar places. The portrait he paints, surprisingly, turns out to be not so much of those who have passed on as it is of ourselves, who remain.

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