The camera's ability to seize the flow of time -- to catch, as E.J. Muybridge did, a stallion in full stride -- seems miraculous no longer. A thousand newer photographs -- of sprinters at the tape, or bullets stopped in air, or of Cartier Bresson's Frenchman captured in midleap above a Paris puddle -- have gradually inured us to such frozen-moment magic. Thanks to strobes and high-speed film, and television's instant replays, we have grown used to the speedy. Today it is more startling to come upon a photograph haunted by the slow.
Linda Connor makes such pictures. More than 60 are on view now in her subtle exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The always, not the instant, is the subject of her art.
Her photographs on view -- of India and Nepal, and of petroglyphic markings scratched who knows how long ago on inaccessible rock faces in Hawaii and the West -- resonate with timelessness. They strike a complex chord whose single notes include her clicking of the shutter and the patient contemplation that led to that decision, the slow moments of their printing, 19th-century precedents, and something far more ancient. They are open-ended pictures, and they open into time.
Nothing new disturbs them. They show no trucks or telephones. Mist rises in Benares. A yogi standing on his head greets the morning sun. A stone that's been imprinted by the Buddha's footsteps is strewn with coins and flowers. A cliff glows in the shadows. An antelope's hide is drying on a mud-brick wall. One feels, before these photographs, that they might have been made yesterday, in 1926, or a century ago.
These images, though fresh, seem intentionally old-fashioned. They specifically recall 19th-century photographs of the Indian Raj, and glass-plate pictures made, in the 1860s, by William Henry Jackson, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, Carleton E. Watkins and their colleagues in the West. Ansel Adams, too, learned from those hard pioneers, but then forged his own style. Few photographers alive embrace antique precedents as openly and easily as Linda Connor does.
Her nearly flawless prints have a slightly reddish tinge. They show no modish cropping. Most are subtle in tonality and symmetrically composed. All of them are contact prints, made with an 8-by-10-inch view camera, and printed, under sunlight in her California back yard, and then toned with gold.
The figures that appear in them feel less like individuals than like apparitions. We do not see that yogi's face. A white shirt with its arms flung out floats in an Indian doorway like some headless ghost.
Connor, who was born in New York in 1944, studied in Chicago in the 1960s with Arthur Siegel and Aaron Siskind. Her photographs of petroglyphs may owe a little something to Siskind's images of rocks, but have nothing of his artiness. Connor's photographs of petroglyphs are straight and yet evocative. Each documents a mystery -- an ancient telling sign, a spiral or a zigzag, a hand print or a snake -- an image that we clearly see but cannot clearly read. Her show is one in the continuing series "Photography at the Corcoran." Organized by Jane Livingston, and partially funded by the Polaroid Corp. and the National Endowment for the Arts, it closes Jan. 2.