Patrice Helmar: Try A Little Bright Light

“In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing.” - Albert Camus; From The Myth of Sisyphus

Perched on the top of a great hill in The Bronx Patrice Helmar holds residence and studio. I imagine her everyday dawning down her steep Marble Hill only to find it still there upon returning home. She bears this burden for many reasons. Non-above all for photography.

What is desired in the world? Say what you mean.

“In its best form photography is like poetry; but that might be bullshit.” Helmar is verbal and lyrical in her blunt humility. The feelings she produces aren’t always reasonable. You fall in love in this way, like the compulsion of reading something more than once. From the sound of it there’s a lot of trial and error in her past. She is a learner, and variant forms of education have concocted her into an unabashed well-informed aesthete, thinker, teacher, artist. Helmar’s photos are an art of individuals who are having a rough time.

There is no compromise in the imagery. The unrelenting honesty of a self taught, behavioral manager like Helmar sings. She has been prepared her whole life for one thing, taking photographs. She’s an Alaskan native, raised in her father’s photo store; her personality comes as no surprise. It is one of personable unconditionality. She seeks the trust and intimacy of others, in words, and tone – body language and expression. After that there’s the light, the quality of grays - whites and blacks. Rich, round, absolved and appreciative, the imagery has that sad bird feeling that some things have all the time. She’s after what she’s afraid of. That desire can be, as she would put it, a real pain in the ass.

What is a poem?

“I like moody shit. Trains, love and mortality.” Heroes don’t always get to eat dinner with their families. Helmar’s photography is a practice of observation as much as intimacy. There’s a state in the photos where you can tell when and how she disappears. Although, I don’t believe that she disappears completely—it’s the distance of the camera—there are no imitations only states of captured expulsion. Something is shared, or gone. There is a removal in the presence of the people and places she photographs. Helmar has a way of making her subjects relinquish. There’s a level of comfort and her understanding of people that allows their humanness to remain.

In Helmar’s imagery it’s very clear that she likes being in places and situations with a task. She bridges an interesting gap between abettor and documentarian. I believe that she likes people, or at least the idea of them. Her intimacy is inundated and thankfully she has that goddamn camera to capture the surrender. A willing surrender. The camera covets and it can be exploitative. Not in Helmar’s case. No one can make someone feel an emotion like she can; it’s in the pictures. It’s consuming and all-inclusive. In this endless task she has created a space for freedom; there’s no telling what happens there. The photos are broached and sublime, they are quiet and sure. One single note high above all the others in the background holding together the structure of the entire symphony of instruments—that’s what a Helmar photo is like.

See more of Patrice Helmar’s work by clicking here.

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