Anne Fishbein was born in Chicago, Illinois. She attended Northwestern University for her BA, and then Yale University School of Art for her MFA in photography. Her solo and group exhibitions include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California Museum of Photography, Art Institute of Chicago, Carnegie-Mellon University Art Gallery, Lamont Gallery at the Mayer Art Center, and El Motin de Los Angeles in Barcelona, Spain. Her work is in the permanent collections of museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Norton Family Collection, National Gallery of Canada, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France. Her publications include On the Way Home, which provides a collection of black-and-white photographs documenting Russia in the 1990s. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, dividing her time between a variety of documentary and editorial pursuits, and entertaining her inquisitive bull terrier.
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Essay Show Not Tell: The Visual Narrative of Anne Fishbein by Lynell George
What makes us look twice?
It’s that elusive thing we apprehend in a glimpse: something unexpected, unusual, transporting; something that tilts and reframes our perspective; it’s powerful in its revelation and connection.
Like sidewalk epiphanies, some of the most haunting photographs resurrect the intensity of those stumbled upon moments. They are an open question, an after-image we carry with us to turn over or question: a tantalizing fragment of a story -- or perhaps a story in and of itself.
Though the medium may vary, the components for resonant storytelling are consistent -- specificity, tension, voice. If, as photographer Walker Evans once observed, a particular sort of writer could be considered an “unconscious photographer” a solid argument could also be made about photographers who unconsciously moonlight as writers -- vivid storytellers. Anne Fishbein is one of these artists.
Her images -- some single vignettes, some extended narratives -- crisscross landscape: maybe via the zipper of old railroad ties or perhaps the now-vanished network of two-lane blacktop that once made up Route 66. Still others situate us within remote “elsewheres” -- most eloquently the out-of-linear-time landscape of pre-and-post-coup Russia. While the work fully immerses us in the day-to-day life details, it subtly erases what might feel distant or foreign -- it begs us to pause, coaxing us closer, until we find ourselves inside of it.
Her work lingers on the essential yearnings, frustrations, sadness or joys -- big and small -- that connect us. This is no sleight-of-hand. Nor is it simply a way of “seeing,” but rather a way of being. She is fully present in that moment, understanding the deeper value that the most fleeting of human gestures might convey.
What she “sees” is beyond visual; it is beyond language or skin. Her photographs frame a truth that eludes words. She’s not so much interested in “factual details,” she explains, but what the most powerful of those details add up to: The “universal, bigger truths.”
The images you will come upon here aren’t simply records of a journey, but rather, as she would call them, “little artifacts” those second-look moments that increase with meaning as time passes. Her work communicates varying gradations of emotion, of intimacy -- a surreptitious glance that passes between two people, the unguarded self revealed in the split-second between thought and action.
What connects so much of her documentary work -- beyond the continent, decade or subject matter -- is a sense of timelessness that unifies us, that transports us not to a specific locale but to the private heart of the human condition.
Anne Fishbein visually articulates the routines, rituals, the circumstances that bind us-- birth, work, Saturday night, life commitments, obsessions, the building-blocks of dreams, uninvited fate, the unvarnished preparation for the business of dying -- that become part of our life narrative. But she’s also just as interested in the circumstances that hang us up, make us work beyond who we think we are and what we know -- because that is part of our story too.
In this grab-and-go digital culture, her work reflects a deep respect for tradition -- in subject matter, approach and in process. It’s a continuation of that story as well; an acknowledgment and deep respect for what’s been handed down and carried forward.
She’s deeply interested in those interactions: film and light, paper and chemistry, the reaction of silver -- but ultimately it’s the connection that occurs between the subject and the viewer when she’s not physically present -- that hang time between the shutter’s release and the actual result -- that’s the other alchemy: the visual, indelible truth and the enduring story that it tells.