Accident Prone
Nancy Davenport
January 10 — February 7, 1998

“Accident Prone,” a new series of photographs by Nancy Davenport, offers a meditation on human contingency and our tragic compulsion to create order in the face of random events. In each of the eleven sublime silver print landscape photographs, a character is about to suffer a fatal misfortune, be it a free fall from a cliff, an attack by a wild animal, or a boulder dropping toward the head. Davenport’s images recall the romantic landscape tradition of nineteenth century artists such as Casper David Friedrich, yet whereas that tradition grants the spectator a sense of absorptive repose and visual mastery, the impending mishaps of “Accident Prone” produce a sense of anxiety and uncanny humour, asking that one contemplate death as an absolute limit to the visible.

Fictional biographies of the character whose demise we are about to witness accompany the images as captions, functioning as a kind of disembodied voice-over. Rather than offer a full biographical account of these unfortunate victims of entropic destruction, the appended texts use a dry documentary style reminiscent of statistical studies or psychological case histories, so that what remains reads like an enigmatic obituary.

Visually stunning and conceptually beguiling, the photographs in “Accident Prone” offer panoramic landscapes and narrative cul-de-sacs, playfully enjoining the spectator to look for a story in what ultimately resists narrative. Davenport’s work suggests that being prone to accidents means being exposed to that which admits of no social accounting—the alternately terrifying and absurd specter of one’s own death, the ultimate omission.

Text courtesy of Linda Kirkland Gallery, New York.

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