Reviewed by Justin Herfst
In the opening sequence of Igor Posner’s Cargó, two images are stacked on top of each other. In the top image is a green thicket, and in the bottom a black and white image of an elderly gentleman dressed in a long coat walking in the dark. The man appears deep in thought, the very top of his head cut out by the frame almost as though his head were filled with the imaginations of the thicket. The sequence is pure intuition, an inner movement that has been refined over the ten years Posner worked on Cargó. Like two disparate sounds brought together into harmony, the sequence intuitively makes sense. On the following page are two black and white images, one of a women’s legs on a bed and the other a boy looking on into the camera. In the low light, the shutter speed is slowed and both images are blurred. Black space in both photographs reach across the page so no border separates the images and there is no frame save for the rectangle of the page. Gone are any presuppositions of tradition and bookmaking. In its edit and its subject, Cargó is loosed from the material present and handed over to the subliminal.
Posner writes in the end notes that if forced to describe the work, he’d say it is about the “psyche of migration.” In Cargó, a transportation through an internal landscape is manifesting, a kind of movement from one state of being to another. The particulars of his migration are personal but the process universal. Sequence after sequence is drawn out — one impression after the next, each with their own cacophony and symbolism.
Posner, like a madman, dives deep into his psyche, resurfacing with another memento, each page becoming its own intuitive movement. If it takes one image to appease this movement, fine. If it takes three or four, if it takes half a film strip, if it takes five images of the same subject matter from the same vantage point, fine. The artist is at work bringing forth the ethereal from the deep, laying it out on the page, cutting it up, reshuffling, playing with the negatives until it all says the thing he wants to say but, at least via the word, cannot.
On every page Posner contends with three elements: the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. In the conscious realm lies the material reality, the facts about the book and the artist, which are as follows: Posner was born in Russia. In his twenties he migrated to California and in 2010 settled in New York. Cargó is primarily set in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, an area known for its large immigrant population.
Posner photographs everything in his life: the beach, his pregnant partner, scene after scene of buildings and streets inhabited and empty; he photographs his negatives hanging in the bathroom, he photographs friends (included is a portrait of Robert Frank). In his photographs something is always moving, be that the camera or the subject. His cameras leak light and colors are saturated and uneven. Aberrations and dust on the negatives become part of the exposure. Posner develops his film at home. In one photo his negatives hang to dry in the bathroom while a woman showers. In another a boy holds them up to the light. Any line between work and personal life is dissolved. “I need this in my life,” he says. “This work is my blood and sweat.”
During the ten-year period of making the work, the underlying meaning evolved for Posner. At first he was intrigued by the writings of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who used the image of a three story house as a metaphor for the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. In the context of migration, such a metaphor encapsulates how these three layers within ourselves exert influence regardless of external change.
One day at a train station Posner witnessed a woman disembark from a carriage with a suitcase in hand. The suitcase, and the meaning thereof, fascinated him. What does the immigrant bring with them? What most holds value for the psyche? Cargó becomes a kind of suitcase for Posner, with each photograph the material holding matter for the memorial and immemorial of his psyche: “this cargo… is nothing more than a repository of an intimate, yet collective existence,” he writes. With Cargó, Posner has photographed for himself the fragments and memories of existence always present for each of us.