Jon: Susan Dobson is Seeing Double….


…or triple, or quadruple, or whatever comes next.

Images from Susan Dobson’s “No Fixed Address” (2004)

Whether it be for the purpose of visual trickery (such as in Victorian stereoscopic photography), or as a means of making a statement about modern obsession and celebrity ( the most well known practitioner being Andy Warhol), the use of repetition as an modern artistic tool has always held a certian allure. By putting forward the striking sameness in a group of images, the viewer’s immediate intellectual response  to this brand of art is to assign great importance to whatever differences do exist.

Artist Susan Dobson’s 2004 photographic collection No Fixed Address begs the question: If there truelly is a natural drive within human’s to find and create variation when reacting to repetition, then how does this need for controlled chaos manifest itself in our day-to-day lives? The answer becomes apparent when studying what is possibly one of the most visually jarring self inforced uses of man made repitition: tract housing in modern American suburbs. These highly planned communities use repeating or alternating floor plans and designs. Driving down a street in one of these neighborhoods it is easy to become lost as a result of the immidiate sense of deja-vu and confusion that sets in. In fact, developers of tract housing have created the design element of building curved streets  even when geological factors don’t require it. This is done in order to prevent the creation of an endless repetitive horizon and the disheartening emotional reaction it would cause to a resident.

A similiar dissorienting affect is created in the presentation of Dobson’s No Fixed Address, in which the identically cropped images are hung in such a way as to mimic the visual sameness of her subject. Each photograph features the startalingly duplicated front entranceway of one of these homes. Each house has the same basic door, windows, bricks, and pillars. The slight differences that begin to emerge outside of that combination are all a result of individual intervention and the effects of aging. Some home owners choose to alter their walkways or paint their doors. Others make dramatic landscaping choices. The color of the brick facade is slightly weathered over time. However they choose to do it, all residents have found ways to stamp the immediate world around them as uniquely their own.

At the root of Dobson’s study seems to be a question of the confused duality of our human desire to at once find comfort in familiarity, but to also challenge the validity of that comfort. Though No Fixed Address does seem to be saying that there is a certain individual beauty and warmth that shines through in even the most uninspiring of conditions, Dobson chooses not to offer a direct qualitative answer to her overarching question. Instead, we are left to ponder our own existence as one of many, and to ask ourselves, “Am I doing enough?”


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