The fall of the Berlin Wall led Jason Eskenazi out of Queens, New York into the larger world. He spent much of the 1990s in the former USSR. The images from that period resulted in the exhibition and book Wonderland which catch an emblematic Soviet reality — seemingly frozen in a dark magical atmosphere. He is the recipient of numerous grants and prizes, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Dorothy Lange/Paul Taylor Prize and the Alicia Patterson Foundation Grant. In 2009, Eskenazi’s Wonderland won Best Photography Book of the Year from POY. Eskenazi is now working on his next book project.
One of the dictionary definitions of the word zero says that it is something having no importance. It means nothing. In analog photography, “00” refers to the very first frame the photographer shoots when loading the film into the camera in order to advance the film. This frame and the next, number “0,” are not usually considered actual pictures: most people start shooting from number “1.” Thus, the image generated by the 00 frame is something not even contemplated in the photography practice. Jason Eskenazi found this idea interesting and made what he calls a side project with a series of double zero shots collected through years of photographing around the globe. Using something that is usually thrown away, he pays a sensitive homage to film photography and lets us reason on several of its aspects.
Eskenazi’s double zero frames have a peculiar nature: they are half white and half impressed with a scene, like a photograph where we miss half of the content because it has been burnt out. This appearance is connected to the physical way he loads the film, which tells us everything about his way of practicing photography: his eyes are always looking for pictures and when something interesting appears in front of him he automatically starts shooting, even if he is still loading the film. There is almost never a moment where the photographer sits, takes out the finished film, and carefully inserts the new one. There is only a continuous flow of life appearing in front of him and photographs being shot: if he is not fast enough, and the film is not fully loaded when the shot is taken, the resulting image is a halved picture.
This series of photographs contain a beauty and mystery that come from this technical accident. Eskenazi brings us from the idea of zero being nothing to something concrete but with an unusual and unclear shape. What we do witness in this project are images still in the process of becoming full photographs: it is like being able and allowed to look straight into the photographer’s mind in the moment he was conceiving a picture. When we see the half-impressed images we cannot help but ask ourselves what is happening in the hidden half of the frame? Images can have their own magic even if not completed: we build their stories. A woman is moving with a chair in her hand in a countryside scene in an ancient country, people already gathered behind her: what rite are they going to celebrate? A young man is sitting on a ferry boat, his hands tangled, his gaze lost in the direction of the part of the scene we can not see: is there a beautiful woman distracting him or is it the view of the city he is leaving or the thought of who he left on the pier that gives him this aura of pensive suspension? What about the group of children facing the photographer, one of whom has the face half cut from the uncompleted frame: he is the symbol of the struggle of this image to become a real photograph and of the photographer to stop the flow of life in front of him as he sees and feels that unique instant that will not come back anymore.
Double Zero has a precise structure in the sequencing of the images: it starts from the ground and moves to the horizon and finally up to the sky only to come back down to earth as we see a series of three final, resolving images that go from the double zero frame into the zero frame and then the number one frame, which is the completed whole picture. It is the photograph of a woman lying on the grass, and it represents the origin and final point of the photographer’s search into his practice. This is the image of love and of all the memories that it brings back to the photographer’s mind. Like in Barthes’s “winter garden” photograph, through this final frame we understand Eskenazi’s quest into the hidden secrets of his double zero negatives.
With Double Zero we dance with the world as the photographer continuously does. We can feel his anxiety and desire while he repeatedly shoots to absorb the reality around him. Click, click. The moment is gone but something will remain: a trace, a memory, a part of our story. Eskenazi leads us in a world of amazement and expectations, struggles and hopes, desires and reality. Isn’t this what photography is all about?
Laura De Marco
Laura De Marco is a photographer, photography educator, and curator working in Italy and New York City. She is one of the two founders and directors of the Center of Photography, Spazio Labo’, in Bologna, Italy.
Jason Eskenazi lives in New York City and completed his residency at Light Work in April 2013.