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by. Robert Sobiezek


At the dawn of Romanticism, Rousseau (Jean-Jacques, not Ann Marie) realized that our first language had to be figurative and that there was a degree of conceptuality or metaphor from the very start. At the very end of the modern period, Rousseau (Ann Marie, not Jean-Jacques) addresses the figural by reinventing, as it were, her own metaphoric Nouvelle Heloise. Disporting themselves throughout light-strewn interiors of abandoned New England factories, her figures loose themselves to their own desires, as though reborn and freshly christened. And just as the older Rousseau understood that by naming, a metaphor is created; the far younger and equally romantic Rousseau knows that by photographing these figures, another metaphor is fashioned, one that conflates themes and conventions two centuries distant.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that the child represented freedom and nature, as did many other Romantics. Friedrich Schiller wrote that children "are what we were, they are what we should again become." Ann Marie Rousseauís sprites are vested with all the natural instincts of children lost to their own internal imaginations and pleasures. But whereas the newly born child of the Romantics was portrayed as much of nature as in it, as in Philipp Otto Rungeís Morning of 1808-9; Ann Marie Rousseauís figures can only run free within the debris and over the warped flooring of exhausted and entropic interiors. They seem utterly oblivious to even the rare glimpses of trees seen through the grime-coated windows. Her figures seem to suggest a complete abandonment not only to their introspective choreographies but also of everything beyond their closed environments, not unlike the characters of an E. M. Forster short story who live beneath the earth and find the very colors of nature distasteful and abhorrent.

A contemplative female figure captured in a windowís light is certainly reminiscent of certain Dutch, seventeenth-century genre paintings such as Jan Vermeerís Woman Reading a Letter at an Open Window of c. 1658, and certain American, nineteenth-century genre photographs such as Alfred Stiegliltzís Sun Rays - Paula- Berlin of 1889. But, common to these traditional images is the pristine order and cleanliness of the rooms. The abandoned interiors in which Ann Marie Rousseau situates her female figures, these rooms littered with the derelict shards of early modern industry are far closer to those depraved interior spaces pictured in some recent post-apocalyptic films like Andrei Tarkovskyís Stalker of 1979 than they are to any earlier examples. And, whereas the figures in the genre scenes of previous centuries were contemplative in meditation, the female figures here are more often than not caught in some sort of indefinite, primal, and ecstatic dance. Ann Marie Rousseauís photographs, thus, may be viewed as romantic figurations and celebrations of the essential human spirit flourishing amidst the incessant ruins and detritus of the wasteland which has come to be the landscape of the post-industrial age.

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