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Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain.

- Martin Mull

Tim Roda’s home-schooling his 10-year-old son Ethan, and quite frankly, I’m a little concerned. The kid’s been asking about this whole “intelligent design” business, wondering aloud about the Crucifixion. Roda tells him Via Dolorosa, means the “the way of suffering” and that Golgotha is Aramaic for “the place of the skull,” but the pint-sized spitting-image of his pops knows when he’s being conned, and he’s not buying the water-into-wine, loaves-into-fish, ghoulish rising from the grave sermon that his father – barely concealing his own skepticism -- is trying to throw at him. Nope, not hardly. Budding empiricist that he is, the pigeon-chested disciple of his dad’s own lapsed Catholicism is getting busy in their dimly-lit, exposed-brick basement landscaping his own miniature back-lot Calvary, restaging his own Stations of the Cross. The prevailing mood is “tenement-chic” circa 1910 Lower East Side, a subdued Atlantis, Pompeii post-eruption.

Head bowed prayerfully, legs crossed Indian-style, Ethan’s clutching some igneous rock like it was a Magic 8-Ball, a baby Buddha in the lotus position shaking the talismanic orb for answers. None, as you might have guessed, are forthcoming. But that doesn’t stop our fledgling utopian starchitect from laying out a Persian rug like it was an open-air mosque, scattering his toys on the diamond patterns in an improvised Gethsemane. Talk about folly garden: Thundarr the Barbarian is rearing up on his Battle Cat next to the Roda clan’s own feline sentry; He-Man, Skeletor, She-Ra and the rest of the polypropylene flock is storming a dashboard Jesus literally nailed to the wall; Castle Grayskull flanks the Son of God amid various emblems of dino-kitsch: brontasouri, wooly mammoths, and a lone stegasaurus with a bad case of scoliosis. Jurassic Park, indeed.

You know China’s doing brisk business in injection-molded pacifiers when a 5th-grader channels the ghost of Cecille B. Demille and choreographs his own intergalactic, cross-species, non-denominational Ten Commandments. While most kids this age are glassy eyed and twitchy from hours playing World of Warcraft, Ethan’s making like Major Mandrake in a Strangelovian war room, arraying his thermoplastic resin battle-bots in gleeful anticipation of his own cosmic Rapture. “Ookla, Ariel, we ride,” our shirtless little martinet commands his ranks, except he can’t differentiate between Apostles and Centurions. In his prelapsarian mind they’re all drawn to a single plaster figurine like moths to a white dwarf. The feng shui of the joint, needless to say, with its bunk bed hovering above Ethan like a plywood sweet hereafter and a single utility lamp dangling from brass chains in a nod to Galileo’s heliocentric model, is – to put it mildly -- fairly humming. In a typical Roda photograph (though I challenge you to find a more egregious oxymoron), a Super 8 Motel becomes – through b&w transubstantiation – the Suppurate Hotel, fairly leaking with all manner of noirish shenanigans, mock-sinister and otherwise.

Way before Michel Gondry popularized the cardboard and duct-tape aesthetic in Be Kind Rewind, Roda was grabbing floral patterned bedsheets and draping them over cinderblock interiors, propping up sawhorses and turning them into dingy M*A*S*H units all in a burlesque of Eakins’s Gross Clinic or perhaps Nip & Tuck’s clinical sitcom sheen; in some cases operating on himself, no less, just a humble striver trying to inject some new life into a DIY aesthetic that, lately, is starting to smack of IKEA’s dumpstered remains, the Lego modularity in pressed fiber-board that dovetails neatly with the artworld’s Cartesian mania for all things retro-moderne. Think: Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in formica veneer. Think: critical boilerplate that namechecks global capitalism, homogeneous mono-culture, the standardization and consequent franchising of indigenous ethnographic exoticism. Now take two aspirin, massage your temples and concentrate on the notion that Roda is leading the culture’s rebellion against its own images of perfection.

While Gursky’s arguing with his personal photo technician in a digital lab in Dusseldorf, Photoshopping out unsightly blemishes and upping the color saturation in perfectly manicured, billboard-sized odes to Late-Capitalism’s industrial hubris, Roda’s developing his photos on fiber-matte paper in his own bathtub, cutting their borders in jagged, expressionistic swaths. The formalism, in other words -- or what we currently understand in photographic practice as “good composition” -- is never simply bounded by, or within, the picture plane. And it certainly doesn’t stop with the print itself. For Roda, this would embalm the image and consign it to the sentimental realm of the static snapshot frozen in time – a nostalgic, sepia-toned genre whose preciousness he clearly wants to avoid.

When Roda casts a sideways glance at Ethan rubbing the sleep out of his eyes with balled fists  -- a look that says “what the *#%+?” -- he’s focussing on the pattern in his son’s ridiculous Freddie Kruger pajamas, not levelling his gaze directly at the camera in the style of classic portraiture. The reason? Roda simply wants us to join him in staring at the clusterfuck of horizontals on Ethan’s clothes as if they were line drawings or Barnett Newman zips. A formal, rather than emotive strategy. Sure, it’s hilariously over the top that his son has morphed into both Bert and Ernie, but Roda’s not performing for us, he’s breaking the 4th wall Zelig-like and asking us to jump up on the stage. Necessarily, then, he must finesse a kinesthetic world that we glimpse in arrested motion, and our mission -- should we choose to accept it -- is to fulfill that ambiguous narrative’s destiny. Ok, so yeah, I agree: Baroque wrought-iron bedposts conscripted into duty for their similarity to Chartres’s gothic curves next to Reverend Roda at a beer keg lectern, preaching the Good News with a paper halo taped to his head is an exceedingly partial, cryptically elusive -- and I’ll admit -- gut-busting visual non-sequitar to be sure, but one whose very indeterminacy is consciously designed to be picked up on in further images. Always to be continued; ever in medias res.

His stripped down, lo-fi aesthetic is reminiscent of your grammar school attempt at a shoebox diorama depicting a perfectly enclosed, self-sustaining Arctic Biosphere rendered in carved sugarcubes and stretched cotton balls – provisionally collaged together, yes, but never hermetically sealed. This is key. Roda plumbs his own memories as an Italian-American kid growing up Catholic in an eccentric family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where his father built their house in the same way that he cobbled together their chicken coop: like Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau, but held together with staples and glue. Entropic. Sad-sack. Absurdly ramshackle. Basically making a virtue out of the readily available and hoping for the best. A suburban bedouin miles from Home Depot. Roda casts his son Ethan and occasionally his wife Allison (when she’s not manning the camera’s 10 second timer), because, in the ethical wisdom of the Talmud, “When you teach your son, you teach your son’s son.” This is the generational passing of batons that is at the core of a Roda photo: a Swiss Family Robinson on a deserted island adventure that practically begs the viewer to step into the tableau. Self-enclosed enough, that is, so that the Sigmund Fruits can parse the dysfunctional psychoanalytic backstory, but never a vacuum-sealed bell jar that would stop any of us from cueing up our own family dynamics, however horrific or heartbreaking they may be.

Remember Mel Brooks’s Space Balls?  Spaceball One, a Millennium Falcon-cum-Starship Enterprise in B-movie drag, ranged across the universe at four different speeds: sub-light speed, light speed, ridiculous speed and ludicrous speed. At ludicrous speed, then -- its flux capacitator redlining, if not smoking -- the ship’s afterburners left a vapor-trail of plaid. Yes, you heard right: escape velocity as depicted in the casual fashion-forward loungewear of a Scottish lowland shepherd. Proletarian plaid, the symbolic ne plus ultra of Grunge, doubling as cheeky dimensional wormhole, which in turn hearkens back to Roda’s own Seattle roots, his days as an undergrad ceramist at the University of Washington.

You laugh, but by stringing up ropes, cables, and extension cords like bereft clotheslines, sporting conical party hats and/or trading blond wigs with his wife and son, or just simply rigging a pulley system with rococo table legs, a tuba, some mirrors, and cut-out photos plastered on picket signs, Roda invites us to step into – and then through -- a psychic romper room not seen since Alice tumbled into the looking glass. In lieu of digital wire-frame graphics, Roda concocts his own metamatic fantasy machines and estranges them further in the warped, fish-eye manner of Pee-wee’s hallucinated Playhouse. Call it, The Un-Elegant Universe. Not surreal, hyper-real, or the return of the real – pace Hal Foster – nor a simulation, simulacrum, or derivation of same. Just plaid.

 -David Hunt

Nasim Weiler/Ursula Panhans Bühler                            31.01.11                        Z: 32,277

Tim Roda – “Hell, I am not sick. I just see the other side”
Ursula Panhans-Bühler


Cartesian clarity is not to Tim Roda’s taste. Which is why his photographs mock just about everything photographers usually hold dear, such as spatial lucidity, correspondence between motif and light, optical articulation of the theme, chosen depth of field and, of course, a clean print from the negative. The paper prints of the pictures he has shot with an analog 35 mm camera are coarse-grained and sometimes speckled with spatters of fixing solution. Yet the appeal of his photographs lies precisely in their ostensibly nonchalant, albeit surreptitiously ingenious rendering of a world which is anything but straightforward and explicit. With Roda, the photographic process becomes a transformational event that lays bare the captured world with a depth of vision which extends beyond the usual perspectives associated with this photographic device.

In his studio Tim Roda, like some odd-ball do-it-yourselfer in a garage, builds interlocking stage props from lengths of timber, saw trestles, metal rods, all loosely propped together or tied up with cords, supplemented by small items of household furniture and gadgets, various tools, lamp sockets, light bulbs and electricity cables, wooden boards, wallpapered photocopies, pieces of cloth and curtains, and occasionally augmented with unglazed pottery, a technique he appropriated early on during his studies. Whenever his wife Allison and his eldest son Ethan return home he enlists them as extras in his scenarios. The camera’s shutter is released either by his wife or, if she is also a participant in the scene, tripped by a timer.

A revealing transformation happens with the staged photograph. Since the invention of photography, when it comes to black-and-white shots we have grown accustomed to the substitution of colour by tones on a monochrome scale; in this respect, Tim Roda’s pictures are often nuanced with immense richness, ranging from milky white to intensely deep black, even though these tonal arrangements might frequently appear to have been created by hazard. Incidentally, his shots would be inconceivable as colour photographs; were they in colour, we as viewers would be denied the experience of being plunged simultaneously into childhood, memories of which play such a significant role. Furthermore, the principle of photographic flatness [MP1] raises complicated issues. Whereas colour in these three-dimensional scenarios would allow us to identify the spatial arrangement of the interlocked objects with all too easy clarity, when seen in black-and-white the things in the photographs become enmeshed in an altogether novel and enigmatic manner, a scheme in which the play of light and shadow, but also the calculated choice of toned surfaces – which on occasions are also enhanced a little [MP2] – act as accomplices.

Let us examine a few examples of this mechanism of visual entrapment in the photographic process. Untitled #113 shows what one might imagine being a nineteenth-century experimental laboratory. The artist himself is in the centre of the picture and seems to be standing on a wooden board on top of two saw trestles, pouring liquid from a large container into a flat basin. Seated to his right on a further trestle is his son, Ethan, clutching onto a remnant of a children’s bicycle which his father has possibly misappropriated to make his laboratory. Dramatic lighting cleaves the room into distinct zones of light and dark. The illumination comes from a source outside the image, not from the lamp facing the wall attached to an electric cable running diagonally up from the floor to just beneath the ceiling, whose glare is charged by the patchily white-painted wall. The confusion as to what is light, what is shadow and what are coloured surfaces, infuses the things in this compositional interplay with independent mobility, an impression which is magnified by the slanted angles and intersecting lines. The result is a precarious balance, accentuated on the left of the laboratory scaffold by the metal lampshade and on the right by the hooked-on wheel of the children’s bike. The riddle-like concatenation of objects through light and shadow is compounded by three mirrors integrated into the setting – one attached to the back wall reflecting the beams and tethers that make up the construction; a second in the foreground on the left, propped up against the wall at an angle that displays the laboratory structure from a new and puzzling perspective as well as the procession of chicken sculptures trussed up in strange paper garb as if just about to leave.[MP3]  Finally, and quite by surprise – for it is half-concealed behind yet another saw trestle, standing in shadow at a tilted angle – we discover a third mirror, its presence betrayed by the slab of light it casts on the floor. In it a man’s face emerges, looming large from within its depths like a dark memory, even if on a rational level this apparition can be ascribed optically to someone standing in front of the picture. While no more than a snapshot in photographic terms, the scene uses complex means to open up a space of memory that has been salvaged from elapsing[MP4] , which converges with the present, thereby in a clandestine manner allying the son with the viewer to partake in this mystery of simultaneity.

 In two of his earliest photographs Tim Roda dramatically heightens the sense of photographic collusion between objects and shadows. The scenario in Untitled #6 shows Ethan sitting on top of a loft bed assembled in true bricolage tradition, peering critically at the camera; in front of him, wedged in the narrow space between two saw trestles like two chairs, is the artist with one arm inserted between the struts of an upturned, crudely improvised ladder. Above him a jumble of electrical clutter, a naked light bulb which, while not turned on, is twinned with its shadow-black doppelganger. But the dramatic incidence of shadow is provided by the ladder whose clunky leg strikes across the shadow of the artist’s head, while its own massive shadow forges an impression of three-dimensionality. As the grotesque pose of the artist suggests, this is no simple endeavour. He has been drawn into this task by an alarming reflective phenomenon. For hanging on the wall over the bunk bed, behind Ethan, is the photograph of a man whose image is reflected in the mirror on the opposite wall, together with that of one of the two boots dangling by their laces over Ethan’s head, which, as a result of the angle of reflection, appears to be administering the man – grandfather or uncle? – a loutish kick on the nose. This horizontal axis spanning the narrow alcove has a vertical equivalent in the correspondence between the rectangles of the suitcase on the floor and the photo of Ethan on the rear wall above the bed. Like an antecedent echo it anticipates the incidence of light in the scene at hand – and thereby also the arrangement [MP5] of forms and shadows in the foreground. The shadow cast by the boy in the photo seems almost to have become an averted, autonomous silhouette. From this scenario one might perhaps conclude that Tim Roda has here already begun examining the father-son relationship and their respective roles in this game in a grotesque and enigmatic manner.

A further hilariously grotesque and unfathomably entangled version of this liberation drama comes alive in Untitled #44, with the father imitating Daedalus – making an exit through the ether. To launch this flight he has built himself wings with windows and has already climbed up a ladder, whose extension he appears to have removed to make a backbone structure for mounting his wing device. He is being assisted by his son who is holding two further window sections at the ready, both aligned in the shape of a second set of wings. Intriguingly, the reduced ladder is augmented by its own shadow, while the rear section of the window wing on the father’s back, diminished by being seen in perspective, blossoms back into a full-sized equivalent through the shadow cast by the front wing. Shadows thus come to the aid of the realm of the imagination that is impeded by earth-bound limitations. The parallel world transcends such constraints in the way it puts them to use, thus altering their narrow boundaries[MP6] . But besides this, the photo also reveals two strange apparitions. Against the rear wall on the right we see a heavy shadow whose source lies outside the picture. A person or a phantasm? And on the left the photograph does not finish with the outer edge of the narrow room but also shows – out of focus – a power cable from very close to and a strange dangling shape. Is it an optical illusion, a white shadow as the flipside of the dark shadow on the opposite side of the room? Of course, it’s up to the viewer to charge these forms with meaning related to the central motif.

In photography there are pitfalls in treating shadows as doppelgangers since as a showy element of composition it can quickly descend into a hackneyed gimmick. Tim Roda knows how to circumnavigate this danger, as can be seen in a detail in one of his more recent photographs. In this instance the work is descriptively titled The Centaur and was produced just before the photo series Games of Antiquities. Roda himself plays the creature’s equine section, with his upper body hidden under a length of fabric[MP7] , while his naked backside and hairy legs mimic the hindquarters of the mythological hybrid; armed with spear-like instruments, his son is staged as the animal’s front human section. Standing close to a wall covered with photocopies, a spotlight casts its shadow silhouette against this bas-relief background. Set at a low angle, the light causes the son’s dark hair to merge with the shadow of his head. For a brief instant one might confuse the boy’s real ear for the keenly alert ear of his shadow double. This spontaneous moment of mistaken identity sticks in the mind – maybe precisely because as a sensory organ the ear belongs in a particular way to both realms.

Had the old celluloid film stock of analog cameras not long since been largely displaced by the chips of digital cameras capable of gobbling infinite quantities of images, sales data would still allow us to calculate the sheer number of family photographs that exist in the world today. Since the introduction of digital recording we should probably reckon with billions of family portraits, impossible though it is to tell how many of these become interred in the direct transfer from chip to computer hard disc without ever seeing the light of day (in the sense of viewers’ eyes). Photographs of the family, the true domain of trivial photography, are all but taboo in artistic circles; one rare exception is Thomas Struth’s Family Portraits which only in relative terms, though not structurally – as representative posing in front of a camera – diverge from the conventional codes of homemade photographs.

Some of the titles Tim Roda has given his exhibitions, such as Family Album and Family Matters, might be considered purely objective or a mixture of discreet irony and sarcastic inscrutability. At any rate, the photographs themselves are divested of any representative evocation of emotional cohesion. And in as far as family comes into it at all, when a third person is brought into play Tim Roda stages a very particular form of folie à trois. Clearly, this is concerned with his own memories and their on-going manifestation, especially through his son Ethan, marking a hidden, lurking parallel world which constantly accompanies and influences the flow of events in the present. Whatever is magnified in the scenarios and inscribed into the surface of the photographic moment can also lend contour to the nebulous memories harboured by viewers – certainly illuminating, whatever discomfort they might incur. In this, mirrors and shadows play a crucial role as means of mise-en-scène in the metaphorical process, giving rise to an interaction of perspectives from son to father, from father to son, as well as with the woman and mother.

Programmatically, this theme is heralded by two early photographs. Untitled #1, the first photo in Roda’s oeuvre, shows Ethan standing beside the sculpture of a peacock, its splayed fan of eye feathers constituted by a wheeling assembly of photocopies of the boy’s portrait; in each one of these his eye is ringed with a painted black circle, as though they had all been individually prepared to be viewed through the camera lens facing them. Mirrors on either side lend a low-key dramatic edge to the situation. In the left-hand mirror we see the father, in the right-hand one the mother standing close to her son. In a mixture of fright and self-imposed silence, each parent is holding a hand clamped over the mouth. The situation in family matters [MP8] has been composed within the relational fabric of the real scenario, the arrangement of mirrors and the camera. The proximity of mother and son in the mirror is emphasized by being framed within the reflected window frame, while the father remains alone, immersed in the deep shadow of his own reflection.

Untitled #14 might remind some viewers of the only non-representational family portrait in the history of painting, Manet’s Déjeuner dans l’atelier (where the ‘mother’ is in fact only a maid servant), especially in the way Tim Roda’s photograph similarly avoids reassuring the viewer – and himself as well – through glibly ‘cleansed’ affective bonds. In this impressive compositional, visual and atmospheric ensemble, each figure claims its own emotional space, both individually and in fraught relation to the others. On the one hand, the son’s attention is directed towards the world outside, but also towards his position between both parents. The father’s oblique glance is turned towards his wife; she, gazing into the mirror, is not examining herself but the camera-eye of the world in front of the picture.

In a number of mises-en-scène Tim Roda strips the relationship between father and son, son and father, of any ‘idyllic moments’. Scenarios depicting what in this respect is usually repressed or denied, immunize his photographs with provocative barbs against any form of idealization. In the sense formulated by Walter Benjamin, one could describe these as dialectical images or, phrased in more modern terms, as situations which paradoxically converge the realm of desire with reality, whereby frequently – and arguably one of the most productive elements of his compositions – an additional person is also present in the picture besides those actually seen.

Take for example the magical Untitled #73, brimming with overt and veiled allusions. The spatial composition here consists of an ingeniously staged corner of a room. The angular perspective is sharpened by the tipped legs of the saw trestle and their criss-crossed shadows (from two light sources) drawing a diamond pattern on the floor that tapers away towards the back. In the background, hanging from a crossbeam mounted diagonally over the room’s corner, is the father, his hands inserted inside rope loops. Whether his feet actually touch the floor is unclear, with the lower half of his body hidden behind the intersecting forms of the trestle and the boy in the foreground; equally unclear is whether the half-naked father is wearing a skirt as the floral pattern of the fabric would suggest. Father and son have turned their backs to each other. A trace of a physical relationship can be seen in the silhouette of the son’s hands on the father’s back. Having left a negative imprint, the white paint on Ethan’s hands recalls their interaction. This strange cul-de-sac space contains (at least) three mirrors. From its perspective the camera reveals more to us than is perceived by the acting artist[MP9] , the suspended father, even if he deliberately positioned the mirrors to extend our range of vision[MP10] . The mirror to Tim Roda’s right shows the upper body and arms of the suspended artist in profile. On the left-hand wall a small oval [MP11] mirror captures the artist’s stomach, his navel at the reflection’s very centre. The way the objects are aligned in the space results in the oval mirror being reflected in the first mirror, together with the reflected likeness of the artist from his perspective inside it, both located directly alongside the head reflected in the first mirror. Oval mirrors also allude to the female abdominal cavity, that place of no return – a condition also indicated, incidentally, by the distancing effect of the mirrors. There are many ropes running through the photograph; the most massive one rises up from and falls back into the space just outside the image, although it is barely recognizable as an electricity cable. There is another cable in front of Ethan which ends in two conical cups, a primitive instrument for conveying electromagnetic sound waves: speak into one of the conical cups and the voice is broadcast at the other end, and vice versa. Holding one cup to his mouth and the other to his ear, Ethan is demonstrating this technique, even though – considering the father’s self-obsessed preoccupation with his disturbing rite of passage [MP12] – he now finds himself alone with this communicative device. But there is a third mirror. Looming out from behind the wallpapered partition on the left of the photograph, this mirror reveals the father’s likeness face-on. In it, propped up at a slight tilt, half-shadow and reflection coalesce. Tim Roda could choose to contemplate himself narcissistically in his frontal image; instead, half concealed behind the ropes and strings, his gaze seeks the outside world through the mirrors. Thus the spell is broken: once the photo session is over, father and son can play openheartedly with both ends of the sound wave communication.

One could write an entire book on this photograph alone – which merely indicates the sheer depth and complexity of the psychic space this one work reveals. Add to this Ethan’s tilted head and pensive expression, and how this represents the nodal point of the image, and one might also perceive it as a reflection of the father’s memories in the imaginative realm of his son – not for nothing is the father’s sphere located directly behind the boy.

Many of Tim Roda’s photographs thematically explore the place of yearning for femininity[MP13] . They range from burlesque costume scenarios to allusions whose subtlety makes them all the more arresting, as in the work discussed above. Let us then examine several further examples.

Untitled #164 shows the artist as a drag queen, squatting on the floor and wearing a curly blonde wig, wrapped in a white, off-the-shoulder towel that looks like a wedding dress to celebrate gender change. Inserted between him and the large, cropped figure of his son in the foreground is a silhouette portrait of the same boy cut out of checked fabric as if an attempt to mix shadow and light. The figure is aiming the rifle in his hand at the lowered head of the artist, whose hands are pressed together in a gesture of veneration or imploration. The son is glancing back over his shoulder to take in the scene behind him, clutching a large shiny knife upright in both hands – which for an instant either strikes one as shockingly phallic or, on a more comic note, resembles a tie being adjusted. Whether or not [MP14] the photo was ‘dodged’ as it was being developed, the white of the wedding dress merges seamlessly into the white expanse of the background. This play on boundlessness introduces a further dimension into the image, the desire to erase difference and division through a switch to femininity. Focussing on the hard outline of the silhouette, the depth of field of the camera-eye accentuates the intuitively assured reflection that pervades the scenario.

Either one is entertained by the exaggerated grotesqueness of the staging or one finds oneself infected by its eerie, unsettling undercurrent. But the yearning for femininity also finds expression in other photographs that do entirely without costumed staging and instead atmospherically saturate the setting. Start, for example, with Untitled #60, the enchanting portrait of Allison, Tim Roda’s wife, lying in bed and observed from the front edge of the picture by the towering figure of her son Ethan who is almost entirely shrouded in shadow cast by back-lighting. Closely related to this picture, the mood in Untitled #156 is transposed with tremendous eloquence. In a sombre interior, lit from behind through a window surrounded by gently undulating curtains, Tim Roda is seen standing with one hand resting on the back of a chair, the other slung around his torso, as if seeking to frame his chest. Light streaming in brightly from outside washes over his body. A mirror on the opposite side of this confined room reflects the light and the artist beside the window. His shadowed head, inflected in melancholic yearning, is echoed by the image caught in light visible to us in the mirror. His eyelids are lowered, nipped by a tiny glint of light in the ‘real image’ in front of the window. In a poetic, dreamlike manner, this immersion into the intimate sphere of the boudoir evokes the other sphere of femininity and touches us – whereby a gentle note of self-irony in the artist’s derivative physical pose cannot be overlooked.

Anyone capable of staging and composing this kind of photograph clearly also has the faculty to empathize with his own son’s predicament when it comes to the drama of emotionally entering the world. In the splendid prose accompanying Tim Roda’s photo book a look in the mirror. deconstruction and reconstruction of the family experience[MP15] , the artist’s brother Mark Roda notes about Untitled #65, “daddy tells me i can’t go to the kingdom of the lord”. The photo occludes almost all spatial depth. Seated in front of a floral patterned wallpaper and behind a geometric edifice of cross beams cast by rear lighting in dark shadow, is Ethan shown from close up with his hands in his lap. That he has lowered his head, immersed in thought, is not visible except in the mirror just beside him. The mirror is mounted in an imitation frame papered with the same design as on the wall, while the frame’s left-hand edge is concealed behind a wooden plank. Through this manipulation of the mirror’s frame Ethan – his pose in the reflection is reminiscent of a figure in Seurat, with form-dissolving light merging smoothly into dark shadow – is thus seen sitting partly inside the mirror but also appears partly to be looming out of it similar to a trompe l’oeil. It would be hard to imagine a more impressive photographic mise-en-scène of a child’s condition suspended halfway between its origins and the here and now. As if following a dynamic vector, the slight tilt of the mirror returns the submerged [MP16] light bulb to its real emergence. Although the white bulb is not turned on, it still gleams with a small measure of reflected light. Switching the light bulb on would only have made it embarrassingly symbolic; instead it acts as a striking metaphor for the humble crutches that support us in the here and now.

 Roda’s exploration of the conflict surrounding the enigma of femininity is occasionally conducted with a drastic level of black humour. Untitled #141 shows the artist, akin to a butcher, busy with the innards of a slaughtered pig. Yet the animal sculpture he made himself shifts our associations away from the crude recollection of childhood memories of animals being butchered in the family home. For the skin of this pig is made of floridly leopard-spotted fabric, while its head pokes through a broad-brimmed, luminously white bonnet. The monstrous hybrid in fact looks more like the grandmother in Grimm’s fairytale Little Red Riding Hood after being devoured by the Big Bad Wolf, except that here it’s the other way round and grandmother is pretending to be the wolf. One is reminded of the delightful scene in Jim Jarmusch’s film Down by Law, in which of the three convicts who have broken out of jail it is none other than the Italian clown, played by Roberto Benigni, who catches a rabbit in the forest, and who then demonstrates that he not only learned from his mother how to kill and cook the rabbit, but also how as a child he had always mistaken the animal under his mother’s knife for himself and was then struck by fear and panic. Thus the background of atavistically cannibalistic desires and infantile fears resurges conspiratorially in a test of whether they can be successfully transferred onto harmless rabbits. In Tim Roda’s photograph the father and grandmother-sow alliance is perfectly matched in black-and-white inversion by the crowned boy-king with his vestal lamb in a bridal veil. The son’s shout directed beyond the frame seems to be seeking attention to this scene. It is also worth noting that the father’s activity could also coined “The Anatomy of Dr. Roda” if one wished to illuminate the substratum of psychologically threatening competition that accompanies all forms of anatomical research, in spite of the very best medical rationalization[MP17] . An eruption of hilarity at the enigmatically contaminated celebration of slaughter could quite easily cause the glass in the sombre window frame propped up on the right to shatter.

His Italian-American family roots and repeated periods spent in Mediterranean surroundings, in Spain and Italy, might have played a key role in Tim Roda’s most recent works. This is particularly evident in the series Games of Antiquities, produced in collaboration with various artist and sculptor friends and shown in 2010 in the Gasser and Grunert Gallery in New York City. Tim Roda persuaded his artist colleagues to approach the theme Game of Antiquities as a joint and deliberately vigorous exploration of the ”concept of the anachronism in contemporary visual culture” (gallery statement).

In the photographs in this series Tim Roda incorporates objects made by his colleagues, but also enlists the artists themselves as participants; in addition, the series also marks the first major photographic appearance of all three of his sons (by now Ethan had two younger brothers). Leaving little to be desired in his harsh depiction of barbaric cult, the ensuing ritualistic scenarios loosely based on motifs from antiquity offer disturbing images on a variety of levels. Roda’s counter-world to the pallid classicist view of antiquity that generally prevails in Western citation of the cultural achievements of the ancient world can perhaps be most fittingly compared with the oppositional mindset advanced by Pasolini in his film Medea, but also with the illumination of antiquity’s dark underworld formulated by Aby Warburg, as inspired by Nietzsche.

Some of the photos in Games of Antiquity manage without any of Tim Roda’s usual vocabulary of mirrors and shadows. Several show figures lined up similar to friezes all’antiqua against the unrendered concrete walls of the gallery, the prints as pale as if the images had surfaced from some hitherto unheard-of pre-historical era of photography. In some instances the figures are set so flat against the wall that they appear part of it like veritable bas-reliefs. But there are also plummeting and startling perspectives, views up or down a bare staircase in the gallery, or looking straight down from above onto a floor that fills the entire frame, and a low-angle shot pointing steeply up past a railing into a corner of the building.

The ‘barbaric’ dimension is evident in the costumes, but especially in the drastic scenes of cultic sacrifice. Take Fig. 15, for instance, which shows a man in a long skirt with a naked torso, suspended by his hands on ropes which disappear up into the bleached-out border at the top of the photograph, as if evaporating into infinity. He is being threatened by another man with a sharp pike, while a third man is carrying a child on his arm that appears terrified by what it sees. Or consider Fig. 17, in which a line of men decked in wild black wigs are shouldering a pole to which Ethan is shackled by ropes, suspended like some sort of sacrificial animal. Terror might also be invoked by the image of the artist streaming with blood in Fig. 13, who is being menaced by Ethan openly brandishing a long sword. Similarly, in another scene – in Fig. 4 – we witness the artist with two of his sons, holding a masked bundle up above his head and about to dash it down into a large cooking pot that appears ready to receive whatever is concealed in the bundle – but surely it is the viewer who must take responsibility for suspecting that the swaddled package contains the youngest of Tim Roda’s children?

What these mises-en-scène all have in common is the paradoxical concurrence of theatricality and archaic crisis. This is what lends the photographs their particular force. They evoke a hidden seam of human brutality without disavowing their sham theatricality. Hence their unsettling momentum is transferred onto the emotions they unleash within us as viewers, yet without allowing us to consign them [MP18] voyeuristically to the ‘other side’ and gratuitously delight in them. This interpretation seems especially pertinent in the case of Fig. 11, a photo that features a row of crudely pieced-together, quasi-archaic monsters by Doug Jeck, which for the purposes of the composition is completed by an additional human sidekick. Sitting opposite them, capriciously holding a small cane in his hand in impeccable ethnological style, is a dapper gentleman, their civilizing counterpart. Once again, a manipulation of shadows plays a decisive role. A large piece of black cloth is wedged between the assembly of archaic monsters and the arrogantly reclining gentleman, in front of whom they are lined up like defendants accused of cultic transgression. Yet the man’s black trousers dissolve into the heavy black cloth to form a shadow monster, severing the light section of his shoes from that of his jacket and turning him – in analogy to the ‘woman without a body’ displayed at funfairs – into a member of the superior race without a body. Thus, with pointed irony the photograph lends succinct expression to our treatment of our archaeological foundations – our anachronisms – and sheds a telling light on the entire exhibition.

Let us take a final look at what is surely the most puzzling photograph in the series, Fig. 3. Incandescent white light dissolving all forms, black beams of shadow hurtling down like threats, intersected by sizzling bolts of light and iridescent reflections floating on the wet ground define a bottomless dungeon-like space which soars upwards with seemingly endless momentum. What is there to gain in believing one has recognized the massive sombre wall on the left as one of the concrete walls in the gallery? What does it matter if the kneeling figure with uplifted eyes protecting his body with a heavy shield happens to be Roda himself or one of his artist friends in a pose? Or if one is able to tell whether another person is concealed behind the mask-like shield on the right, from which a crowned spear is pointing upwards? On this side heavy shadowy forms stacked from the ground to the photo’s upper edge further narrow our view into the space. At any rate, this unbelievable visual puzzle creates the impression that the entire field of visibility might actually be nothing more than an ingeniously staged reflection that confronts us with a labyrinth from which there is no way out. Unless, that is, we accept that the labyrinth will always accompany us in the manner described by the Danish poet Inger Christensen in her story The Painted Room: “…for with every step we make, the labyrinth moves with us at just the same speed and in the same direction as we move ourselves.”

In this respect, Tim Roda’s Games of Antiquities converge with his Family Matters, and as an anachronism in contemporary visual culture they remain – through their ability to provoke memory – a scandal.

Translated by Matthew Partridge

Tim Roda
Daniel Cooney Fine Art


ARTFORUM 2010

The black in Tim Roda’s black and white photographs is inky, saturated, and absolute, and the whites are moony, stark, and often, although not always, provided by intense spotlights.  Within these atmospheric extremes Roda stages tableaux reminiscent of myths, fables, fairy tales, and parables, often starring his son Ethan, and using a mixture of intensive props, costumes, and prosthetics to create a whatever’s-at–hand aesthetic--so that his stage is cluttered with bits of wood, wire, string, and wallpaper, a sort of art-studio noir.  The images in his recent exhibition “Family Matters” (all titled Untitled followed by a number, and made within the past four years) are echoes of tales of ill-favored fathers and sons, of antiheroes and their sidekicks: the father slaughtering a papier-mâché cow while the son, wearing a crown and cradling a lamb in his arms, calls to someone off to the side; the father seemingly suspended from the wall in some sort of full body breathing apparatus while the son lounges, bored, in a chair; the two of them in serene silhouette, under the translucent wings of a windmill.

Ethan’s presence--as Icarus, Isaac, Sancho Panza- gives the images the frisson of uneasiness that frequently arises from depictions of children in artworks.  Certainly some of Roda’s earlier images have trod edgy emotional ground, showing, for example, the boy in tears.  But the constant back and forth between playfulness and darkness here seems truthful, as a father and son enact the process by which adults transmit to children their knowledge of the world and by which they are, in turn, changed by doing the transmitting.  Children may be innocent, but they are also wily, passionate and destructive; they have a particular power and vacillate between knowing and how to use it and being utterly perplexed by it.   Roda captures the complex life of a child while still affording his dignity and allowing him to be real, singular child, rather than a symbol (which is how the images, although unsettling, avoid being exploitative); the child as an angry slayer of a mythical beast, the child as triumphant hero, the child as initiate into mysteries he doesn’t yet understand (as in an image in which they regard each other with a kind of mutual bafflement, the artist in shadow, in long prosthetic legs and goggles, the child bathed in light).  And they have a great deal of fun together, as Moliere-ish buffoons, as intrepid inventors of crackpot machines, as vaudeville actors in a real-life skit.

Roda takes great care with the formal aspects of his photographs-despite the scavenged and taped-together aesthetic, and despite making a point of de-emphasizing finish (for a past exhibition his photographs were mounted on plywood with screws, in some cases with the screws driven right through the image itself)---in order to balance the transience of the moments the works depict with the permanence of their records.  The idea of balance extends to Roda’s management of the staged and the natural, so that the viewer sifts through layers of artifice and stagecraft- fake legs attached to a human body, cartoonish brightness lines emanating from a real light bulb, all manner of lo-fi optical trickery, including mirrors, shadows, and not-quite-illusionistic lines taped to a wall---to arrive at a real family pursuing its own particular versions of universal tales.

 Rosenberg, D. (2015, June 21.) How One Father Found a Way to Make His Children (and Himself) the Center of His Work. Slate

(2015, June) New Yorker

(2015, May 28.) Tim Roda: Hidden Father At Daniel Cooney Fine Art. Musee Magazine.

Sasha. (2010, March.)  Beautiful / Decay

Seyfarth, L. (2008, June 16.) Kulissenzauber IM Hobbykeller, Artnet           

Troop, D. (2008, May) Modern Painters Magazine, 56-58.

Linzy, K. (2007, February) Tim Roda Interview. Art Review, 165

Gibbons, R. (upcoming publication).  Janus Head On-Line Magazine

Fugami, T.  (2006, May/June).  Truth is Stranger than Fiction.  afterimage, 33 (6), 45.  

Scott, C. E. A.  (2006, February 1).  Portrait of a Family Snapshot.   Visual Codec.

Knoblauch, L. (2015, May) Tim Roda, Hidden Father @ Daniel Cooney. Collector Daily

Dault, G. (2008, May 31). Tim Roda at the Angell Gallery. The Globe and Mail

Peterson, K. (2007, March 9). Photos tell stories with a cinematic quality. Las Vegas Sun.

Forestieri, S. (2007, March 8-14). Tim Roda's staged photographs invite multiple interpretations. Las Vegas Weekly

Peterson, K. (2007, March 9). Photos tell stories with a cinematic quality. Las Vegas Sun,

Castaneda, K. (2006, October 10). Exhibit highlights new form of contemporary photography. The University Star

Danek, S. (2006, July 1). Unheimliche Bande: Der Amerikaner Tim Roda inszeniert abgrundige familien geschichten. Neue Ausstellungen_Kunst, p. 089.

Dault, G. M.  (2006, July 7). Black and white and Roda all over. The Globe and Mail, p. R11. 

Clemans, G.  (2006, January 27).  Family participates in compelling images.   The Seattle Times

Johnson.  (2006, January 27).  New York Times

Hackett, R.  (2006, January 24).  In Seattle Galleries: Roda's pictures move the heart and soul.   Seattle Post – In.

Beal, S.  (2006, January 25).  Tim Roda Photographs. The Seattle Weekly

Graves, J.  (2006, January 19).  Father Knows Best, Tim Roda Photographs His Family.   The Stranger

Butler, S.  (2005, October 11).  Seattle artist shares unique photographs.  The Easterner

Lippens, N.  (2005, June 9).  Hell Is for Children: Tim Roda's Family Matters.   The Stranger

Kangas, M.  (2004, August 20).  Thought Provoking Imaginary Worlds at Greg Kucera Gallery.  Seattle Times

Hackett, R.  (2004, June 11).  Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p. 18.

Hall, E.   (2004, May 27). Nuts and Bolts, The Stranger

Kangas, M.  (2003, December 12).  YSA Young Seattle Artsits, Howard House,  Seattle Times.

Untitled # 24, Silver Gelatin 24 x 24 inches. (Above)*

Untitled 71, Silver Gelatin, 33 x 38 inches. (Above)

Tim Roda

Grunert & Gasser Gallery
524 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

By David Hunt


Consider yourself lucky to be standing outside of this claustrophobic frame: a slaughtered turkey lay on a blood-soaked pallet, while five plucked chickens hang from nooses strung up on makeshift rafters. Suburban basement or dungeon boneyard? Feel free to take your pick--the grit and gloom cling to the oily cement and soiled windows in the same creepy, noirish manner. Ink black shadows cast by a lone naked bulb appear scratched into the wall like hieroglyphics, inert and totemic. Gargoyles, really. Phantasmic watchmen. These shadows aren’t dancing in a clever trick of the light because there are no slick camera tricks in Tim Roda’s black & white photographs--lighting, staging, PhotoShopping, or otherwise. There’s simply Roda bent over a carcass, wielding a stained meat cleaver in one hand and a turkey neck in the other, searching for gaps between cartilage and bone. His seven year old son, ever the eager apprentice, stands by with comically oversized gardening shears ready to lend his dad a helping hand. He’s an apt pupil in a thick wool Pendleton and watchmen’s cap, never blinking or blanching as the barnyard butchery unfolds, just happy to be spending some quality time with his pops. Strangely, the mood is not thick with recent violence but with ritualized instruction. Generational passing of batons. Hunter-gatherer stuff. Lessons in blue-collar providing with a dark survivalist twist. Rural bringing home of bacon, or available bacon substitutes. Manhood mentoring.

You might think Roda’s channeling his inner Dahmer or consigning his son to years on the analyst’s couch, but those thoughts fade when you spot the fake white beard absurdly dangling from his chin: strictly Salvation Army Santa by way of Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments. A ridiculous cotton-candy beard which keeps the encroaching morbidity at bay, turning poultry snuff footage into a wacky burlesque of father/son bonding. Pinewood derby, however, this ain’t. Here are some biographical tidbits that yield more than an inkling into Roda’s “process,” though somehow that word, with its sterile air of sequential planning and smooth choreography, runs counter to the improvised shenanigans at hand. Now 28, Roda grew up in a family of six in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an Anytown, U.S.A. where money was always tight and an eccentric father insisted that his children eat steroid free meat. Roda has said: “Every year we raised a calf that we would carefully name and bottle-feed in our back yard. When grown, my father would slaughter the cow in my sister’s bathroom. The stench of flesh and warm blood lingered in the air for weeks. Flies hovered outside.” Where you and I might become repressed accountants or trigger-happy postal workers, sharing these fond memories over one too many pints with alarmed co-workers, or burying them so deep that no amount of talk-therapy could ever dredge them up, Roda made a virtue out of what seems in retrospect to be some bizarre lost script for an episode of the Addams Family.

Except that it never seemed that way to Roda, having experienced nothing different, knowing nothing else except that his friends would steer clear of his house. And it’s precisely this lack of retrospective gloss—the smoky opium den blur of a Nan Goldin photo, say; or the poreless Victorian sheen of Sally Mann’s children—that make Roda’s photos so weirdly compelling. In a Roda photo there is no impulse to poeticize or aspire to any ennobling universals, either through incandescent penumbras of light, insouciant knock-kneed posing, or iconic thousand yard stares. It’s simply business as usual for the Roda clan: Tim, his wife, and his young son, passing the time by building strange windmills powered by the air from a blown trombone or attaching crude window-frames to their backs like awkward wings only to step off a ladder like a hopeful (yet doomed) Icarus in his basement Kitty Hawk. Compared to Roda and his family standing around in conical party hats staring mournfully at a birthday cake propped up on a sawhorse, the most off hand documentary photos look like maniacally-over-controlled stills from Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. The reason for this, I’d venture—besides the fright wigs, goldfish suspended in plastic baggies, peeling plaid wallpaper and gilt-framed mirrors tilting off walls--is that Roda is just continuing on from where his father left off, without the intervening text-book strategies and accredited modes of presentation that pass for social artifacts today rerouting his sincerity synapses. And he keeps doing it wherever his studio happens to be located, building junkyard props out of lumber and unfired clay because--well, for no better reason than that he prides himself on being thrifty, is mindful of waste, and there’s never any shortage of 2x4’s.

 He makes it plain that in lieu of an interesting—albeit, somewhat hairy childhood--the rest of us are stuck diagramming and charting entropic monuments in ruinous states of decay because the alternative--hygienic Rockwellian bliss—is reserved for the poor saps that subscribe to Reader’s Digest, not the pedigreed connoisseurs of industrial refuse who are the self-appointed tastemakers today. We pursue hobbies and “interests,” in other words, while Roda need merely pause and reflect on fifth grade. And in case this jury misses Roda’s point, he’s made it conveniently, abundantly clear for them in his production and presentation: developed on fiber matte paper in his bath tub, cut in messy jagged swaths for framing, or mounted on found plywood with screws that pop up--just like Roda himself--like busted jack-in-the-boxes, or unsightly, but somehow perfectly appropriate, weeds.

 

Untitled # 32, Silver Gelatin, 20 x 30 inches. (Above)

Additional Art Reviews / Magazines / Online Journals   

Untitled # 140, Silver Gelatin, 24.5 x 30 inches. (Above)

Untitled 40, Silver Gelatin, 24.5 x 36 inches. Above

Untitled # 79, Silver Gelatin, 30 x 44 inches. (Above)

Untitled 53, Silver Gelatin, 24.5 x 36 inches. (Above)

Untitled 185, Silver Gelatin, 14.5 x 21 inches. (Above)

Kangas, M. (2006, November).  Tim Roda at Greg Kucera. Art in America, 220,221.

Tim Roda's second solo show in Seattle (which coincided with his New York debut at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert) was another step forward for the 29-year-old photographer, whose 2004 M.F.A. at the University of Washington is in ceramic sculpture. Clay still plays a discreet role in his large black-and-white set-up photographs, usually as the building material for some of the props incongruously present: a birthday cake, bricks, chickens, toys.

Otherwise, the cluttered, baroque vignettes in these 19 prints featuring Roda, his wife and his seven-year-old son are filled with building-site detritus, dangerous-looking dangling electric wires, kitchen and bedroom furniture. Roda's large prints (42 by 32 inches to 35 by 52 inches) appear to be the result of competent but informal darkroom procedures.

In these works, figures are actively engaged with one another in each environment , involved in bizarre tasks such as climbing up a ladder with a window frame strapped on their backs, riding a bicycle in an enclosed room or slaughtering a fake turkey. False beards, faux food, cross-dressing, masks, interiors shot outdoors and exteriors constructed inside rooms - all these employ subtle  humor to confound the viewer's expectations of domestic tranquility.

In the new works, Roda has enlarged small photographs he has taken of older people's faces and used those as masks-on-sticks for some of his "actors," suggesting hidden psychological dimensions. The tensions between parents, or between parents and child, are present in most of the works and lead to limitless family dramas.

Other works set the artist under a glaring light at the center of the composition, as if awaiting an interrogation, or place a masked woman beside a child poking a long steel pipe out a window. The persistent sense of awkward communication between father and son in two other works remains ambiguous . When they are seated at the breakfast table together or when the father stands in the child's bedroom above the boy surrounded by toys, the implication vacillates between the imminent expression of affection and an impending scolding.

In other poses, it appears the the father and child were caught off-guard by a surprise visitor who is about to take their picture together. In these works, the child's curiosity about the world is equated with the parent's befuddlement over his duties. Ultimately, the power relationships between family members are distorted, challenged or reversed. - Matthew Kangas

"The first time I picked up a bagel, I knew photography would be in my future."

Tim Roda

Graves, J.  (2006, January 19).  Father Knows Best, Tim Roda Photographs His Family.   The Stranger 


Tim Roda's latest photographs are hot, muscular, witty, and can't be trusted. They push you around and then apologize. They promise you everything but keep the best of the secrets. Nearly every time they say something serious, they were only kidding. I don't like them. I do love them. And so do a lot of other people, because they're going like crazy at Greg Kucera Gallery, the little red "sold" dots piling up salaciously next to their untitled titles.

Roda is a 28-year-old graduate of the University of Washington's MFA program. He more or less stormed the scene in 2004 when he had his first solo show at the gallery, called Family Album. The current show, in a telling revision, is just called Photographs. It stars a young couple, which happens to be Roda and his wife, Allison, and their 7-year-old son, Ethan—photogenic all—in a series of black-and-white, grainy scenes that look part Blair Witch Project, part Grand Guignol. The stylistic resemblance to documentary imagery is unmistakable, yet the dingy, cluttered scenes are, upon closer inspection, meticulously arranged by the artist. And the action is absurd and surrealistic. Tim disinterestedly inspects a large toy camel with one hand and holds a shotgun in the other while Ethan stands under a bright light, ominously wielding a carrot, sharp end up. Or Tim, in a fat suit, chomps on a burger while Ethan explores a mound of dirt while wearing a scuba mask.

At first glance, it looks like Roda is exaggerating and perverting family life to reveal its malignancies, like picturing a raging domestic subconscious. If only his subversions were that simple. Instead, he is toying with the temptations of photography itself. He provides a mess of information—each scene looks like a construction zone, with scattered lamps, hidden objects and industrial detritus—but much of the information is distraction. Faced with the dense traffic of the imagery, it isn't possible to figure out which roads are dead ends—which details are artifice as artifice, and which are artifice as code. Ultimately, Roda's photographs promise, then withhold, knowledge. The realities of these relationships, identities, even these moments, are only seen in glimpses.

Roda, a native of Pennsylvania, doesn't live in Seattle anymore. He moved last fall to New York, where more of this series plus earlier works are on display at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert Inc. in Chelsea. The earlier photographs are similarly gritty and brash, but smaller, and pinned brutally to plywood chunks, rather than tamed by thin black frames. Roda offsets the obedient framing in the latest series by hacking with scissors at the photographs' edges, double-casting the works as dusty, matte-paper superflats and sculpture, too. He is nothing if not devoted to dramatic tension.

An unfortunate drama presented itself in the place where he made these photographs, in and around the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. The Rodas spent nine months there in 2004 and 2005 for an artistic residency (Roda was once a ceramic sculptor). Ethan's playdates began falling through when the conservative community realized the Rodas were making unusual photographs instead of pottery and failing to attend church. Some of the darkness in the works can be seen as a representation of the sinister view the Montanans had of their interlopers. Social claustrophobia circumscribes the images, hunkering down around the question of whether Roda is exploiting his family by using them in his art. If at first it seems he is, look again. These three are a closed circle. Above all, the series can be seen as the work of a protective father obscuring his family as much as revealing them. (It also represents a successful breadwinner in action.)

Photographers such as Sally Mann and Diane Arbus come to mind in this context, but Roda's images are frozen performances—shot by pressing a button on a 10-second timer—and they have additional resonances in theater and music, especially the family business of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players and Fiery Furnaces.

The fact that these stagings are family events for the Rodas produces a hunger for the slightest sentimentality, which Roda mostly starves. A certain gravitas appears in its place. Tim kneels at Allison's parted bed curtains as Ethan is apparently leaving her side. Tim, wearing an apron, serves dinner to Ethan, whose eyes are closed and whose cute little tilted head is framed, angelically, by two lit candles.