(1) "Orson Welles", photograph, 1972
(2) "Andy Warhol", photograph, 1972
(1) "Dennis Hopper", photograph, 1972
(2) "Truman Capote", photograph, 1972
by Bill Lasarow
(Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood) Among the coterie of successful fashion and commercial photographers whose work has bridged the art world, Victor Skrebneski may show the purest interest in the human figure. Whether posing a subject in the most unlikely of contortions, causing it to disappear in a thicket of its own reflected light or examining the persona of celebrity, Skrebneski displays a decided preference for the unencumbered encounter. Multiple models and backgrounds are as limited and rigidly controlled as if by the most devoted minimalist. This exhibition places its central focus on Skrebneski's portraiture, often of public people who are familiar to most of us. Relating our own familiarity of an Orson Welles, Truman Capote, or Raquel Welch to what the photographer reveals of them is the most obvious pleasure of such a show. Skrebneski provides fuel for this sort of speculation by making his images dramatic while maintaining the subjects' personal distance.
Wrapping Welles in silhouetted shadow and cropping the top of his head so that his cowled eyes peer back at you with a reserved suspicion is riveting drama, but hardly designed to deliver us a Welles not in control of what he wishes to give us. The image here is more compelling than the portrait.
By contrast, a double image of Dennis Hopper turns this meditation on its head. The left figure is literally more out of focus then the right--which still retains the ghost of the subject's movement. Whether read as withdrawing from or approaching the picture plane, there exists an uneasy balance between Hopper's encounter with you and his own self-reflection. More than a depiction of a familiar icon of popular culture, Skrebneski offers a powerful insight into the ambivilant and uncertain relationship of this individual to both we, the audience, and himself.
If Skrebneski does not work exclusively in black and white, tonality is clearly both a preference and strength above and beyond hue. Light may well be his most evident obsession, treating it by turns as the stable generative source of classical volume, or as an ever-moving, indefinable vibratory field.
The former is ascendent in this show, and his series of backs or spectralized figures are missed. But the clarity of his visual thinking, as it relates to his very rational approach to lighting, is a memorable strength and may be seen here. One portrait of Francois Truffaut puffing out cigarette smoke that appears to be gathering itself into a sculptural form works because the contrasting left side of his face is hidden in shadow. This makes an important point about Skebneski, the artist: He may see most clearly in the light, but it is really the shadow that knows.