Providing his exhibit with a title more telling than he realized, Santiago Mostyn’s ’04 “The Art of Looking” betrays his excellent eye for composition and an unpretentious owning-up to the truth that a photograph does not necessarily have to make any great philosophical statement.ÊThis is not to say, of course, that his photographs are intellectually or emotionally empty. He has splendidly pulled off what few art students can — namely, being able to establish a conceptual foundation that is free from unwieldy intellectual afterthoughts meant to imbue his work with a meaning he did not originally intend.
In approaching the rather trite question of what beauty can be revealed in ordinary subjects, a question familiarly posed by Wes Bentley and his plastic bag in “American Beauty,” Mostyn treads carefully. Instead of declaring all such things signifiers of something profoundly affecting, he recognizes, as he says, that the “banality of what is around us [is] sometimes beautiful.”ÊHis pervasive interest in natural light and how it can transform the same subject by its own fickle doings, is an important part of his realization of the mutability of ordinary beauty. Some of his large color photographs of crumbling buildings and construction sites are beautiful mainly because of the time of day at which he has chosen to capture them.ÊWhen Mostyn goes “around chasing light” he finds the time of day at which the ordinary becomes illuminated literally by a setting sun and figuratively by his discerning eye.
An excellent example of a fortuitously captured moment of light and exalted banality is one of his large color pieces, in which a deteriorating brick building sits among some bare-branched trees, looking as ordinary as can be, except for a brilliant light shining through one of the windows. In this photograph Mostyn has found that perfect moment of the day at which the sun has decided to appear on the other side of that empty window frame — and lucky for us, Mostyn has saved it for those not around to see it.
The work contains another recurring motif, small rectangles in which the main action of the piece occurs.ÊThe strength of these moments is confined in these rectangles and in borders of the photograph itself, providing a tension that the composition alone allows — again, we find that Mostyn’s work is based in strength of composition rather than an implausible intellectual postscript.ÊA good example of this is one made of the pavement left bare by the car whose presence prevented it from being coated by the golden leaves that fill the rest of the frame.ÊThe stark gray of the pavement is as poignant as a color can be next to the brilliance of the leaves, a moment at which Mostyn captures the force a color can have.
Having just begun to work in color, Mostyn has not yet really figured out how to balance composition with color, and it is evident in some of the weaker color photographs that the weaknesses are derived from confusion over whether to focus on composition or color.ÊThe large scale at which he has chosen to work requires a very visceral response to both of those things in the environments he photographs. He already possesses a remarkable ability to react immediately to a potential composition, and once he has cultivated that same immediacy in his color photographs, Mostyn should produce some wonderful work.
Because of his extraordinary black and white works, which affirm his sensitivity to light and an unyielding control of all parts of the frame, we can tell that the unsteady legs on which his large color photographs stand will become stronger with just a bit more experience. The heady newness of both larger size and color have distracted Mostyn from his command of his work, making the best large color works seem less deliberately skillful. Luckily, this is nothing that won’t soon be fixed by time and continued artistic toil.
While he in an artful observer, Santiago Mostyn is also learning.ÊWhat he has to show for himself thus far is extremely promising — thrilling for what it already is and for the promise it holds for his future work.