David Hilliard’s work is rooted in the deeply personal, elevating the everyday to the sublime through formal and conceptual techniques borrowed from theater, film and other modes of storytelling. Presented as large-scale, multi-paneled photographs, the works in his new exhibition, Just So, at Yancey Richardson explore complex, universal narratives through the examination of the artist’s own relationships with family, friends, muses, lovers and strangers alike. Each portrait comprises a number of images employing different focal points, converging multiple perspectives into a single scene, and in turn, multiple variations of reality. Hilliard takes the personal and familiar and manipulates them to provide a commentary on larger issues such as masculinity, aging, sexuality, and spirituality, striking a balance between autobiography and fiction.
The photographs themselves portray the people in Hilliard’s life in private moments of contemplation, vulnerability, and seduction, captured with an intimacy that calls into question the relationship between photographer and subject. We see David and his father, quietly embracing by an entryway door; a young man drying his face, possibly after a shower, next to an open window, deep in thought; a shirtless man smoking in the kitchen, gazing directly at the viewer, his hand on his head in a pose of sexual openness. The distance created is visceral, the details sensual. There are shadows and reflections, repetitions of shapes and motifs, as in a poem, inviting associations and connections between the people, places and feelings they emote.
The exhibition’s title, Just So, refers to a state of being where everything is arranged neatly and in its proper place. Alternatively, a “just-so story” is a tale that is speculative and unverifiable. For Hilliard, the ability to see something, as if for the first time, imbues his imagery with a sense of both idealism and illusion. Ultimately, his camera serves as an intermediary, creating a space between himself and a world he longs to understand.