Shooting Bricks/Getting Looks

Roger Minick’s color photographs of Legoland, recently on view at the Jan Kresner Gallery in Los Angeles seduce the viewer with their compounded and reflected layering of surveillance. These captured acts of tourism, presented as brightly colored voyeuramas frame selected views with a heightened sensibility to scale, site and confrontation. Kresner’s genius here lay in his ability to juxtapose a number of scale-shifting oddities that are easily missed on an actual visit. In person, the shear quantity, size and variety of brickettes and their architectural expression is so astounding that one’s ability to take in the larger spectacle is quite impaired.

Three images are of particular relevance for this discussion: Grauman’s Chinese Theater, White House and Boys at Rockefeller Center. All three represent cornerstones of American popular culture from entertainment to politics to business. And all three images successfully orchestrate an array of issues into provocative compositions.

In Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Hollywood stargazing becomes hyper-surreal. The miniature film premiere that unfolds in the middle-ground at the theater is, for instance, not observed by throngs of fans, but only by one giant in the foreground: an attentive blond kindergartner dressed in Minnie Mouse regalia. The iconographic building has, alas, fallen like Dorothy’s whirling-dervish farmhouse into a land of outsized munchkins with stars in their eyes and dots on their dresses. From Shirley Temple and Elizabeth Taylor to Drew Barrymore, the Olson Twins and Curly Sue of Pepsi ad stardom, this fan is not only a viewer but a vessel, a place holder and a stand-in for the Hollywood child star dream machine.

All the while, looming in the background is the great black eye of the Griffith Park Observatory. The dome, sits majestically like an otherworldly meteor on a grand pedestal, acting as a kind of architectural omen for the riskier business at hand in Hollywood. Rebel stars with or without causes may lie concretely in the tiles at Grauman’s but the real and celluloid volatility of celebrity is much more loosely set.

In the White House, the artist himself is captured on film as in shadowy profile in the foreground. This figure, as shadow, is strategically situated for a virtual worm’s eye view of the political structures and underpinnings in our nation’s capital. Like the child in the first picture, the shadow becomes a kind of referent, in this case, to the political observer, informant, participant. Is he the still undivulged source-the deep throat of Woodward and Bernstein notoriety, or simply an unknown ghostwriter of presidential speeches. Perhaps he’s a behind-the-scenes campaign organizer of the James Carville type or maybe he’s just all that’s left of Hunter S. Thompson’s fear and loathing. On more solid ground, two spotlights hidden in the landscape direct the composition. They point to the center like weighty telescopic lenses at a sports event or super-sized director’s blow-horns ready to holler "action." On a landing, a gaggle of Lego figurine tourists looks back at the artist. Squinting against the spotlights, one plastic man seems to be holding his own camera. In this way he playfully mimics, even taunts the photographer’s role.

Lastly, the exhibition scene-stealer, Boys at Rockefeller Center, brings the photographer’s position full circle. He is no longer the peripheral, hovering child observer of the first image, or the political shadow in the second. Here he is confronted point blank by one boy’s unflinching and piercing stare. This look is so sharp that it doesn’t even pause for breath as it slices right through the artist. In fact, the child’s glare cuts directly out the frame into our space like a hot knife in cold butter. Further the sun’s reflection, or photographer’s flash on the building tower, like the boat filled with passing tourists in the pool beyond, add to the mounting defiance of unwanted inquiries. As such, they too successfully bounce the looking-glass lens right back into the viewer’s court.

Perhaps the verdict on voyeurism at play in these images lies in the eye of the beholder. In any case, the surprising frankness with which these photos explore looking at Legoland suggests a refreshing take on American amusements and pose larger questions as to boundaries and appropriateness on a hot summer day in the land that Lego built.