Samuel Laurence Cunnane is a young Irish/French photographer whose exhibition of new work—like so many others—was unexpectantly side-tracked with the sudden intrusion of SARS-CoV-2. Thank goodness! Because, otherwise, I would not have been able to see his work. Cunnane produces striking images of the built environment, brand new and abandoned buildings, plants, the sea, the lie of the land, a frosty morning, a cloud of mist, Siobhán sitting in the back seat of a car (her face half hidden behind clenched-up fists), a bruised arm and a burning truck. His pictures show that he possesses an extraordinary capacity to see the remarkable and the mundane in the things around him, as well as a knack for embodying such contradictory characteristics in his work. His images accentuate the liminal, the inescapable effects of wear and tear, and bring viewers face to face with impenetrable spaces, imminent hazards and the consequences of misadventure.
While many of the images in the online show are in colour, some are black and white, and none happen to be very big. The largest prints are slightly larger than A4 paper, whereas the smallest are just 13.7 x 19.5 cm (most postcards measure 10 x 15 cm for context). All of his works also happen to be handprinted. In a conversation with Cunnane, a friend and fellow artist Dorje de Burgh states that Cunnane is a “self-confessed analogue-fetishist”—a statement which Cunnane absolutely agrees with. Cunnane admits that he is mesmerised by photography’s physical properties; its tactile aspects appeal to him. He believes the size of his prints convey the meticulousness off his approach and adds that he has reprinted whole exhibitions in order to obtain the tonal range that brings the works coherently together.
Cunnane’s background includes working at New York’s Maysles Documentary Centre alongside Albert Maysles, where he handprinted Maysles’ collection of documentary photographs. In ‘Samuel Laurence Cunnane’, the e-book that accompanies the exhibition, Brian Dillon suggests that “the way Albert Maysles’ camera lights, meditatively, on stray elements of a scene” may be an influence. The lens of Cunnane’s roving camera appears to operate in a similarly fascinating way. In my view, cinematic influences may also extend to the way Cunnane captures light and greatly contribute to the impact of his images.
The manner in which light highlights the chain link fence and the discolouration of the subject’s arm in ‘Annina bruise’ (2019) feels transient and anxiety-inducing. The black and white ‘Site 1’ (2019) offers a miscellany of information. While the structure’s windows, which suggest sunken eyes, reflect a distant line of trees, the shadow of a streetlamp snakes its way across a gravel bed and up the uninflected surface of the building. The work speaks as much about things outside the frame, as within it. Some of Cunnane’s hues, which tend to be muted, come close to being unpalatable. The fuzzy whiteness colonising the grass in ‘House in morning light’ (2019) and ‘Sand’ (2019), for example, reminds me of mould; the colour of the water in ‘Green River’ (2019) also raises questions. The torrent of flames and smoke that issues from the vehicle in the centre of ‘Small truck burning’ (2019) seems out of place on a stretch of deserted roadway. And yet, the truck’s plight calls attention to the rigid horizontality of the scene—even the billowing smoke and clouds above strive to conform.
Cunnane definitely has an eye for real visual drama. None of his images feel the least bit contrived.