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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – Susan Lipper, Grapevine

Susan Lipper, Grapevine: 1988–1992 – MOCAK – Krakow’s Museum of Modern Art – 28th May 2017


Figure 1: Sutherst. 2017

At first glance, Lipper’s Grapevine exhibit looked to me like a set of straightforward and conventional documentary photographs of life in small town America.  The town is called Grapevine. A closer look revealed a different story.  The photographs appear almost like a parody of what we expect to see life is like in Grapevine.

On her website, Lipper explains about the project in her ‘Introduction to Grapevine’.

“These pictures are not an effort to document, in any real sense, Grapevine Hollow, West Virginia, but rather the collision of my experiences, the tangible world and the nature of photography.

I first photographed Grapevine, West Virginia in 1988. It is such a small town that a resident once said that if you didn’t know it was a hollow you would think it was someone’s driveway. It was never my intention to stay for a long time in any one place, the general nature of most photographic road trips, yet repeated visits of varying lengths up to several months continued for over five years.

I found myself driven by a desire for repeated interaction with the community and to specific places and events in Grapevine. And also perhaps to an intimacy never before imagined. After all it was a chance set of circumstances which brought me to Grapevine in the first place.

This series of photographs is my journal.”

(Susan Lipper 2017)

Lipper’s photographs play with the viewer.  They are a kind of theatre made especially for the viewer.  Lipper’s website explains that the “work strongly spoke to a diaristic dramatization of her new home, with friends and adopted family playing part. The series contains scenes of collaborative staging underscoring the often polarized roles of rural men and women.” (Susan Lipper 2017)

The photographs portray the ‘residents’ of Grapevine as the stereotypical hicks or hillbillies. This is what viewers expect to see in rural West Virginia.

Figures 2-4: Sutherst. 2017

Housed in a separate gallery space at MOCAK, the photographs occupied 2 adjoining rooms, each long and narrow with floor to ceiling windows forming one of the short end walls.  The prints were of different sizes on 3 walls in each room, with single large scale key images occupying the end walls.


Figure 5: Sutherst. 2017


Figure 6: Sutherst. 2017

Looking closely at the prints, I was not particularly taken with them. For me the images are too grey and there is not enough contrast within each image. I wondered whether the printing process used for the images had caused the whites to appear grey, so I have since studied the images on Lipper’s website.  Again, on the website I find them to be too grey as well.  So now I am intrigued.  The tones used are obviously deliberate.  These low contrast images have little or no highlights or shadows.  They are simply just shades of grey. There is little variation between one shade and another. To me the images feel quite flat and soft.

Figures 7-10: Sutherst. 2017

I find the overall appearance of the images to be quite subtle, but with a mysterious and almost malevolent feel to some of them.  This was further emphasized by the reflections on the photographs due to the sun shining through the windows and reflecting off every surface. The reflections distracted my eye and made the content quite tricky to view at times. This also meant I found myself in the photographs as I was recording them. I am sure this was part of the effect intended.


Susan Lipper. 2017. [online]. Available at: [accessed 29 May 2017].

Susan Lipper. 2017. [online]. Available at: [accessed 29 May 2017].

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