Exhibition Essay for Tamsen Wojtanowski & Jennah White’s “You Will Never Arrive” by Nancy Brokaw

Text from Nancy Brokaw’s thoughtful essay on Tamsen Wojtanowski’s and Jennah White’s collaborative exhibition at the Tyler School of Art:

Consider: You Will Never Arrive

What does a photograph do?

Once, the answer was easy. Photography fixes the world, pins it down.

Consider: The click of the shutter fixes a moment, freezing the past in the present tense of the photographic print.

Consider: Back in the analogue days, it was the fixer that trapped the evanescent image in the paper.

But the time has long passed when it was that simple. We all know now that the camera can lie just as easily as the pen. Think Photoshop, think every touched-up, slimmed-down, face-lifted celebrity photograph you have ever seen.

Yet the medium is still tethered to the physical and struggles to capture the interior, the invisible, the ineffable.

Can a photograph speak of what we cannot touch, what we cannot see, what we cannot know?

In their individual work, Jennah White and Tamsen Wojtanowski set out to explore the realms of the unphotographable—the interior, the uncanny, the invisible. And in this collaboration, they extend that exploration in a call-and-response format that asks, seeks, and never arrives. The format itself is forever open, leading (inevitably, logically, irrationally) to another response, another call. World without end, amen.

So what does a photograph do?

Can a photograph picture thought?

Consider: In Jennah White’s Sometimes, I don’t think my mind is right, a woman’s unexpressed thoughts ripple across the picture plane. Nearby, Tamsen Wojtanowski’s Contendor depicts thoughts (perhaps catching White’s as they echo out into the ether?) as two small, disembodied mouths translate the oscillating brainwaves into words.

Can a photograph picture time?

Consider: Three masks, suspended in a jet-black void, in the empty eternity of White’s imagining, become grounded in time in Wojtanowki’s world. In Smile, White’s three faces reappear, now three mouths dangling like pocket watches to preside over history itself – a history reconstituted as collaged images of a truncated Renaissance courtier and the incomprehensible marvels of mid-20th-century engineering coexisting in a riot of Victorian wallpaper.

Can it picture what lies beyond?

Consider: Wojtanowski’s portal into the earth (Rest) leads, in White’s image below it, into an indeterminate place where lines, like roots, creep down into a sunlit chamber inhabited by a shadow. An underworld? Or consider: Hands lead us into (or beckon out of) portals—gesturing from a tree in the deep forest and into a mirror world.

So what does a photograph do?

Whatever it wants. (Deliciously, wonderfully, so.)

— Nancy Brokaw

See the show for yourself – 

You Will Never Arrive

Tamsen Wojtanowski and Jennah White

Atrium Gallery @ Tyler School of Art


Jan 24th, 5:00-7:00pm

Exhibition Dates: Jan 20 – Feb 7

Nancy Brokaw is an independent critic and writer living in Philadelphia. She is currently a senior lecturer at the University of the Arts, where she teaches Critical Issues in Contemporary Photography, and a senior contributing editor of The Photo Review.

Read more by Nancy Brokaw here.

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