As art has become less definable by medium, photographers have tended to remain the most genre-specific of practitioners. Perhaps this has to with the medium’s commonality and a consequent need for an artist to define a recognizably coherent subjectivity. Recently, younger photographers, such as David Meskhi, have been actively disregarding such constraints. His exhibition “Higher” consisted of analog photographs taken in his native country of Georgia since 2007. Many show a gang of teenage skateboarders on a promenade backed by a pale strip of cerulean sea. The mode of display, like the style of the photographs, varied radically. Slick high-definition color prints were taped directly to the wall; others were framed. There were shabby black-and-white images, dissolving in their own grain, like pictures cut out of an old newspaper. Similarly, the hanging was self-consciously haphazard, uneven, whimsical.
Meskhi offers scenes like boys swigging liquor in a graffitied basement (an untitled work from 2008) or communing in a dark field (New Year’s, 2009). The intimacy of the images suggests that they belong to a visual diary put together by one of the gang. And yet Meskhi, in his early 30s, would seem too old to belong to this milieu. The work also conveys something of a fashion shoot’s glamour—aided both by a technical similarity to fashion photographers’ recent use of analog point-and-shoot cameras, and by the boys’ skinny jeans and trendily disheveled hair. However, it is less the currency of stylish spectacle than the datedness of nostalgia, the fragility of memory, that accounts for the emotiveness of the pictures.
The show was divided informally into two sections; in the second, the photographs look vintage, like souvenirs of the golden age of East European athletics. Muscled figures work out in a gym, swinging from poles, falling spread-eagle into safety nets. One of these images switches to color, showing two gymnasts pivoting on one of the shoreline benches that feature in the skateboarder pictures; it effects a bridge between the personal nostalgia of the first section and the air of historical appropriation in the second. The gymnasts exude the fierce dedication to sports achievement we associate with the Cold War period. But this is also a false trail: these images are no less contemporary, or no less Meskhi’s own, than those of the teen gang. He blends the autobiographical visual diary, the fashion/media image, the social documentary and the appropriated relic, evading each of these categories in order to allow his photographs to establish their own territory—the utopian/dystopian aspiration of youth, an idealism which self-reflexively parallels that of an artist. An untitled work from 2010 shows a concrete pier receding into the sea, with a topless boy in white jeans at its farthest reach. In the coarse grain of the photograph, the pier merges with the sea, so the youth appears to walk on water, as the gymnasts appear to fly off their bars and the skaters to levitate from their boards. They defy gravity as the photographs that capture them defy time.
Photo: David Meskhi: Untitled, 2010, from the series “Higher,” C-print, 11 3⁄4 by 7 7⁄8 inches; at Micky Schubert.