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ART | Art Review

Photograph as Memory Device

November 09, 2000|LEAH OLLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Only under special circumstances do another family's family pictures have true appeal, much less compelling force. But the Cuban photographer Jose Manuel Fors creates those circumstances. Tenderly, almost wistfully, he re-presents old family pictures as assertions of present richness, as private documents with tremendous emotional currency.

In his engrossing show at Couturier Gallery (his first solo exhibition in the U.S.), Fors engages with the tantalizing prospect of photography as a metaphor for human memory. Both are means of recording and preserving the past, and both distort what they save in the process of saving it.

Both are somewhat mysterious mechanisms yet both are trusted, their truths convincing enough. Both archive the precious as well as the painful.

Memory manages its database, so to speak, not through any logical system but through the power of visual and emotional associations. When Fors visualizes a personal cosmos as a giant circular mosaic of postage-stamp-size photographs, he doesn't organize the images in any apparent way. The sepia-toned pictures of babies, seashells, leaves, art reproductions, family or friends fill the field of vision, accreting to suggest the fabric of a life. The two "Circulo" (Circle) pieces here, one just a few feet in diameter, the other more than 6 feet across, are stunning forms of visual biography.

Repetition can weaken or strengthen the power of an image, reinforce either its sacred or mundane nature. In Fors' work, what is ordinary is also precious, and the categories blur evocatively.

* Couturier Gallery, 166 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 933-5557, through Nov. 25. Closed Sundays-Mondays.

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