Presence

Our presence or position as viewers is one of the key features of Sloan’s prints. The artist captures a perspective that makes the viewer feel integrated within the dynamic lifestyles of the varied classes of New York, and yet, by the same stroke, utilises other points of view to detach the viewer from the scene. New York is rendered in such a way as to be seen but unknowable, and the viewer is part of the mystery.

This effect is best understood in The Little Bride, in which, Sloan, by presenting a ceremony of unity – a wedding – does well to remind the viewer of their alien presence. The bride, the focal point of the scene on whom almost all eyes are trained, sends her own gaze back towards the viewer. Her expression is one of partial recognition, only half-noticing what she is looking at – besides she’s in motion, she’ll be gone in just a moment. But then, right below her, one notices a small boy in a cap, static and staring at the viewer. This kid poses two questions: Why is he looking at me? And, what am I missing?

In The Show Case, too, the viewer’s presence and position seems uncertain. The school-aged girl at the front of her group is looking at once ahead, and also at the case on her right. She’s running onward, but her face is rendered to suggest an inward gaze. Perhaps this is where Sloan wanted the viewer to be?

 

Niall Gallen (MA English Literature and Culture)

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