“It can happen anytime, anywhere. I mean, you don’t have to be in front of stuff that’s going to make a good photograph. It’s possible anywhere.” Henry Wessel has a flare for the dramatic, but he finds it in unexpected places. Wessel exhibits none of Weegee’s morbid fascination which sent the photographer chasing after every crime scene in New York in the 1930s. Nor does he have the greedy eye of a photo reporter craving action.
Like other American photographers of his generation (Winogrand, Friedlander, Eggleston…), Henry Wessel is a chronicler of daily life. However, he scouts for the traces of tragedies about to unfold, for the signs of a tipping point. In this image, the framing shows it quite literally: the diagonal line cuts the image in half, destabilizing it, creating a momentum. The photograph evokes a film still, like a snapshot from the plot of a film noir.
Everything in the image compounds this impression: from frames within frames (every window is a mise-en-abime) to the glints of sunlight reflected in the chrome of the car like a burst of flash. Henry Wessel is above all attuned to the exchange of glances that extends outside the frame: what are the woman and the kids in the car looking at? The gaze of the “protagonist,” who is like the heroine in a detective novel, seems to indicate that she is witnessing a curious scene. The shadows and lights falling across the partly hidden faces of the other passengers compel us to inquire further.
Our questions must remain unanswered: the photograph raises doubts but never dispels them… Therein lies its attraction: it takes a quotidian scene (a car ride like any other) and begins to spin a story that we must follow beyond the frame.
By Camille Balenieri
Henry Wessel, A Dark Thread
From June 5 to August 25, 2019
Maison Européenne de la Photographie, 5/7 Rue de Fourcy, 75004 Paris