Gary Duehr Isn’t Just Looking
by Franklin W. Liu
To Gary Duehr, photographic art offers a precious, unique opportunity: a rich, life-long visual conduit to examine, to deliberate and to challenge all things attributable to humanity both great and small in life. He is a vibrant artist/thinker whose keen cultural awareness and intellectual curiosity are manifestly vigorous and infinite.
Duehr is also a published poet, a teacher and an award-winning artist whose public installations and artworks have been exhibited worldwide.
As an artist, Duehr holds that the very act of looking at something, anything, is fundamental to deciphering the multifaceted meaning of human existence. Yet, he maintains that we often look with such banality, neglecting to digest the significance of what is transpiring in front of us; thus, Duehr’s artworks seek to sharpen our thinking and perception, often with a wry sense of humor as a catalyst while allowing the viewer to come to his own nuanced conclusion.
His pigment prints, “Just Looking,” a 2015 photographic series, show art-museum-goers stopping to look at wallmounted artworks with their backs turned toward Duehr’s lens. We, the viewer, unwittingly become an integral part of Duehr’s “Just Looking” series. In essence, we are one step removed from being captured within Duehr’s camera-frame: as we look at someone who is absorbed in looking at a painting, we feel by inference that someone else is similarly engrossed standing behind us, ad infinitum — life is a curious continuum.
His 2014 “Closed Circuit” photography series dealt with a similar theme of watching and being watched, albeit with a sobering twist, as he showed people being watched and recorded on CCTV monitors in public settings; he sees it as an ominous manifestation of current-day “Big Brother” reality, perhaps raising a civil-liberty warning on surreptitious surveillance as we run our daily mundane errands?
Pushing back against the duplicitous pretext of a brave new world, Duehr’s artwork asks us to be cognizant of governments’ and businesses’ invasive practices. His artwork, at its core, is a genteel prod to think outside of the proverbial box that often traps us in an intellectual and emotional abyss.