Liz Johnson Artur takes photographs of people as a means toward connection. As viewers of the photographs, we connect with the people in the pictures. These connections are powerful—one human being, a group of human beings, linked to each other in the space of a museum. A tension holds us together, a gravity of desire.
Many us have been thinking about connection over the recent days of shutdowns, social distancing, and stay-at-home directives. I gave Johnson Artur a call at her home in Brighton to hear how an artist whose work is based upon human connection is coping through imposed isolation. As she said during her CAM artist talk, her “idea of photography is of physical presence.” Hers is a photography of movement—of her own body and the bodies of her subjects. How does she make do without this artful dance that has become her life?
“I decided to stay home,” she tells me. “I have a dark room at home. When things are closing down, a dark room is a good place to be.”
So rather than taking pictures, “I have a crazy amount of time to look at my pictures.” She’s looking at her pictures and “working on a sketchbook. It’s very interesting to do that. This is not a time to do what I always do.”
The current need for isolation, Johnson Artur believes, will remind us of other needs that may have gone neglected or ignored. “This moment enforces my belief that we need each other. It sinks in day by day. It makes us see what it means to be on our own. The situation is bringing out elements we have neglected. I want to talk to people. I want to communicate. This isolation makes us understand the importance of talking to someone.”
One of the needs we are rediscovering, Johnson Artur suggests, is our need for art. “Art is needed more than ever,” she says emphatically. “I mean this not in a platonic way, but in a real-time way. Because I am an artist, this is what I have to do. It is important to have access to art—on any level. We need these things that make us understand our reality as human beings.
“It is good to have art. I was just listening to more experts about steps we need to take to survive. But we need emotional and soulful survival tips too—art is important for that.”