Au fil du temps
I first discovered Steven Rifkin's own photographs as I was perusing the collection of photographic prints that he has been assembling for over thirty years. Almost by chance, at his vast studio in Mount Vernon, in the suburbs of New York City, I came across a body of small, remarkable prints signed Steven Rifkin. I was amazed since he had never told me about his own photographs before. But in fact, after the first moments of astonishment had passed, I was not all that surprised for Rifkin is one of those reserved people who is always ready to listen but rarely reveals anything about themselves. I very soon decided to put his photographs on display at the gallery. Rather than documenting the world, they talk of his emotions, his own life. I am very pleased to be able to take this particular byway; I am extremely happy that Steven Rifkin has chosen Les Douches to unveil his work.
It is perhaps wrong to imagine Steven Rifkin as a calm, almost happy man, of extreme elegance and refinement. But this is obviously how we imagine him in light of his work. The title of this exhibit could easily have been The Gentleness of Life.
Rifkin takes us on a tour of a day-to-day America that changes almost in real-time, one that we have rarely seen. From the 1970s to the present day, Rifkin shows us an America of astounding purity. His inhabitants are photographed as so many actors in a silent musical, filmed in black and white. When they come in pairs, they are like the positive side of Diane Arbus’s characters. Rifkin does not belong to any tradition; he is his own tradition. As such, he tells us the story of his own America, a peaceful America where Kennedy and Martin Luther King were never assassinated, an America that never experienced Vietnam, an America where Donald Trump never became president.
Yet this appearance of supreme gentleness owes as much to the quality of his prints as to their subjects. It is impossible to imagine Rifkin’s photos printed by anyone other than himself. They have the softness and mystery of sketches, so much so that one wonders whether they are prints or drawings. So it is hardly surprising to learn that Rifkin is also the official printer for a number of major photographers. And among these great photographers is Rifkin himself.