4 color (16pgs) & 1 color (234pgs) offset printing
5.25” x 8”
Hand numbered with dust jacket
Limited edition 200 copies
Catalogue published on the occasion of the Peter Sutherland exhibition at Hope Gallery.
May 10th - June 10th 2009
Opening Reception May 10th 1 - 4pm
1547 Echo Park Ave
Los Angeles, Ca
It is partly Peter Sutherland’s charm that allows him access to his subjects, but also his beard. The bearded are an important trope for Sutherland, his own beard nothing to sneeze at, commanding respect from the beard wearers he seeks. To Sutherland, these men are not simply eccentric derelicts, but more like mystical gurus. Hot Coals Only has one bearded man casually handling a python, another has his beard in plaits, wearing an expression of zen-like concentration as he sets up his pool shot.
Sutherland’s photography is documentary in style, but the images aren’t simply literal - they conjure more than they document. Sutherland’s heroes are the Maysles brothers, Werner Herzog, and Danny Lyon, documentarians who put themselves in situations of intense living, capturing strange narratives that say as much about the recorder as the recorded. None of the photos in Hot Coals Only are taken in Sutherland’s home of Manhattan. Many of the characters are strangers and the places foreign, yet the work feels personal and autobiographical.
This show is in the tradition of classic road trip photography like Walker Evans or Robert Frank, but for Sutherland the wandering is also internal. He grants his idiosyncratic preoccupations full reign. This forms the distinctive Sutherland world, the obsessively recurring ramshackle jeeps, tents, dogs, and beards. They’re photos, the imagery is real, but they’re also props for characters and ideas floating around Sutherland’s brain.
Photos of graffitied tents in the woods transcend a portrait of American homelessness: they look so weirdly out of place in the natural setting, they embody the very idea of loneliness and alienation. Sutherland’s dogs aren’t posed, or manipulated by CGI, but naturally appear anthropomorphic, even cooler and wittier than the people around them. A damaged car looks like it’s wounded, slouching, sad and embarrassed by its shoddily duck-taped body. This is not to say that Sutherland’s photos don’t capture real life. There’s general gnarliness like homeless encampments and homemade swoosh tattoos, but also everyday strangeness and wonderfulness like a woman in a motorcross helmet hugging a cat, and the fierce, bulging eyeballs of Mike Scroggins, a bowler on TV. There’s a joy and palpable excitement in catching the holy shit moment.
Hot Coals Only ventures particularly deep into nature, and mankind interacting with nature and coming across as a species of goofballs. One can imagine the stoned teenager standing in a creek spray-painting ‘POT’ on a rock. A peace symbol spray-painted in a cave looks asinine. I think of an older Sutherland photo depicting a guy patting a wild deer, a cartoon boner in the guise of a detective on the his t-shirt. The deer actually looks smarter than him. Obviously people are smarter than deers, or stones for that matter, but we are also far goofier. The landscapes, devoid of people, may be the most cosmic of all: expanses of shrub-dotted void and biblical-looking mountains under pure white skies. People are having a good time in nature too. We’re sledding down dirt hills off freeways, climbing mounds of snow, meandering through mysterious, desolate plains, and drinking beers in lakes at night. This world Sutherland conjures is always one you want to hang out in.
David Jacob Kramer