36 Views of the Lion’s Lair – Gary Isaacs

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Gary Isaacs

Exhibition: November 15th, 2014-January 4th, 2015

CPR Interview: Click Here

Artist Statement: 

From the  I Ching  :   What takes place in the depths of one’s being, in the unconscious, can neither be called forth nor prevented by the conscious mind.

Back in 2008 I was in NYC visiting with my uncle Philip where for 50 years he’s lived in the same one room walk up just around the corner from Grand Central Station. I’ve always loved his place, It’s like a cross between an Appalachian shack and the Vatican. One night during my stay I awoke to find him sitting motionless at the edge of his bed.  Wearing only boxers,  his back was to me,  and I was startled to see that it was completely covered by a beautiful tattoo rendering of Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. I was so startled that I woke up again  . . . .  I had been dreaming. My uncle was in fact fast asleep, tattoo-less except for the faded “Shirley” on his left shoulder. 

Home in Denver several weeks later, I was walking past the Lions Lair for the zillionth time when  it spontaneously occurred  to me that it might be interesting to make a series of photographs all anchored by at least some portion of the Lions Lair façade . . .  “36 Views of the Lions Lair” .  It’s as simple as that. These images are photographs of both the Lions Lair itself and of moments visually sandwiched between myself and the façade of the Lions Lair. For the record, I’ve spent my fair share of hours and dollars inside of that place, probably more than some would advise calling attention to, and over the years I have made thousands upon thousands of photographs “inside” the Lair, but that’s another story. 

36 Views of the Lion’s Lair is not about my experience on the inside, and though I’ve also spent years photographing up and down the length of the once rough and tumble “longest, wickedest street in America” that is Colfax, these photographs are not particularly about that either. This is not some sort of social commentary, documentary, or lifestyle piece. I set out to create a body of work that nodded to the series of woodblock prints created by Katsushika Hokusai in early 1800’s Japan entitled 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Or, said another way, this is a collection of photographs that represent my conscious exploration of a specific limitation suggested to me by my unconscious. 

Where did my initial dream come from?  I don’t know. What did that dream mean?  I don’t know. The first time that I walked past the Lions Lair after having had that dream why did it occur to me to embark on this project? I don’t know. Would it have ever entered my mind to make these images had I not had that dream? I doubt it. All that I can say with certainty is that I feel that there is a direct, if not completely knowable, connection between the dream and the idea to make these photographs. 

About the Artist:

Unless one is willing to reveal themselves to the world the world  will not reveal itself to them. One will never be able to see more in their work than they are able to see in themselves and by the same token they  will not be able to not  see themselves in their own creations  . . . . .

Before I began photographing in earnest sometime during the mid 80’s my life had unfolded less like the chapters of a continuous narrative  and more like a succession of short stories with no apparent connection between them other than I happened to be there cast in the first person. By the time we moved the studio out of Union Station in 1998 my archive had swollen to roughly 200,000 negatives and I had become deeply embedded in a career that straddled a range of editorial and advertising assignments that I juggled along side an ongoing  series of personal projects. I’ve never been the kind of guy who had a “day job” and have always found a way to turn whatever I was truly inspired by into a full time gig. For the last thirty years “photography”  has been my passion, my vocation and a spiritual path all in one.

Photography by Amanda Tipton