Clotheslines

Untitled, New York, 1930 PDNB Acc # 0085

John Albok, Untitled, New York, 1930
PDNB Acc # 0085

This is about clotheslines.  The feel of serenity, the association with the lifegiving powers of the sun, the metaphors for human connections. I miss them so much and their simple graphic beauty that everything that looks like rectangles on a line, e.g. traditional Mexican papel picado banners, gives me the joy of laundry art associations. Because I also see them as a serendipitous art form in itself – along with being a meaningful social phenomenon.

The inspiration for all this is John Albok’s photographs at the Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery in Dallas. They surely present the full panopticum of clotheslines symbolism and motifs you can find in a city. There’s the  loneliness of the isolated human figure, suspended in space, in the shape of an empty dress. Or the connections between people housed in the grey buildings of a dense urban space. The intimacy of our inner thoughts that we unwittingly display in public, to air them. The festivity of small laundered items that look like flag pennants on a ship. The comforting beauty of criss-crossing lines that connect everything. 

One of my favorite from this series is an image that doesn’t feature laundry at all: the picture of two sisters playing on the sidewalk with a clothesline jump rope.  It just represents so well the essence of all other images: clotheslines are about playfulness and human connection, inventiveness and a sunny day. On the other hand, one of the saddest ones is a winter scene of a courtyard where the lines carry a heavy weight of snow but are bare of any clothes, waiting for summer.

That said, I am not sure why line-drying laundry is banned in many cities in the US today. Is it because of aesthetics? Lack of public space? Fire hazard of laundry catching fire in hot climates like Texas? OK, this last one was perhaps an exaggeration :). But not by much. There is something utterly sad in hearing the dryer hum full with a load of wet clothes when the sun is so warm outside.

And the clotheslines theme is dear to my heart for one more reason. As someone who has worked in several alternative photographic processes that use the UV light from the sun to print images – a true light room – instead of the calibrated bulb of a darkroom, I have developed a keen eye for the sun and its daily course.  So this is my literal, photography connection. Add that to the fact that one of the most common way to dry prints is on a clothesline, using clothespins. And, although I haven’t talked about this series yet, one of my assemblage images from a series that’s currently in progress uses clothespins in its presentation. I can’t wait to show it to you. Soon!

It’s kind of unfair to write about an exhibition after it is over – unfair for those who read and for the gallery. My only justification is that I actually saw it in its final week. But to celebrate The Clothesline as a brilliant concept of life you don’t need a time schedule – just Albok’s eye for it. And, since John Albok is a mainstay at PDNB, my guess is you can still see his photographs if you go visit and ask. 🙂

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4 responses to “Clotheslines

  1. I love my clothesline so much that we haven’t owned a dryer in 8 years. Few things are more charmingly creative than an assortment of brightly colored fabrics waving at you. As for the suburban towns that don’t allow them–Pffft! It is a sign for many as a lack of affluence and we all know how important money is when determining a person’s worth here.

  2. Oh, so maybe clotheslines diminish the value of homes in a neighborhood as they suggest low income? That’s a decision as weird as the deliberate deprivation of public transportation in a city just to avoid “poor people moving in”. That’s Arlington, TX. Because poor people still live here, but everyone is worse off because of the lack of public transport. Sad!

  3. Totally share the emotions! For me the main is that feeling of warm families and strong mothers living behind those facades where I see the clothes hang on the balconies.
    I’ve been living in the old houses of Sofia (Ucbunar), on 1st or 2nd floor, and I put my washing out enjoying the thought of people passing by on the street, looking at them and dreaming! : )

    the other thing was spilling out over the open door and windows in the summer and onto the street – gentle music, nujazz or kurdish, classical arab…

  4. This sounds beautiful! When I am in Sofia would you show me around your neighborhod? 🙂

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