For some people, there’s nothing more arduous than hearing a friend drone on and on about his or her bad relationships. For Jon Huck, though, it’s the stuff of inspiration. “I was spending a lot of time with a particular group of friends — all of whom had broken up and gotten together with one another at some point in the past few years in this horrible, incestuous circle,” he says. Huck, a photographer whose previous project, “Breakfast,” chronicled the morning eating habits of more than 100 friends, saw an opportunity to build something out of the chaos of his friends’ relationships. “I wanted to create a reaction to certain popular ideas about romantic love and coupling — the notion of the ‘soul mate.’ ”Huck began to photograph his friends, and once he finished, he spread out to shoot other couples he encountered in his Eastside haunts. After several months of shooting, however, a project that was initially conceived as a cynical look into the nature of relationships began to evolve into something different. “I started to realize that some people are actually happy together.”
And thus the current manifestation of his work was born. Now showing at the Jeff Electric Gallery in Silver Lake, “Couples,” as he calls the exhibit, depicts 140 people, each paired with the person he or she was involved with at the time of the photograph. Shot individually, the subjects have their pictures mounted on 4-by-8-inch wood blocks and hung, next to their partners’ photos, on wooden pegs that line the gallery walls. “The whole thing was meant to resemble a sort of check-in board or children’s game,” says Huck.
While his initial impressions of relationships evolved favorably over time, Huck’s metaphor of the relationship as a game appears accurate — of the 70 couples featured, about 20 percent have broken up since the photographs were taken. “One friend had a horrible breakup with her girlfriend a couple of days after I shot them and immediately begged me to take her out of the exhibit,” he says. “I tried to convince her to change her mind, but she said, ‘I do not want to be in any way associated with that woman for the rest of my life.’ Who we choose to partner with is immensely personal, and we don’t always make good decisions.”
If Huck’s work gives any indication, these decisions, good or bad, seem to revolve around an inherent narcissism. Most of the couples featured share striking and undeniable physical resemblances. One fair-haired, freckled couple are so similar in appearance that Huck says, “People actually ask me if they’re brother and sister.”
Still, universal conclusions about the nature of couplehood are difficult to draw from Huck’s limited subject pool — most of those photographed are artist friends and acquaintances from Silver Lake and Echo Park who bear similar pale hues and fashionable haircuts. Huck explains that he sacrificed a more diverse sampling for intimacy with his subjects: “I wanted there to be a connection instead of just lining 100 people up and creating a photo-booth aesthetic.”
Huck’s “Couples” will remain on display until July 13, when the Jeff Electric Gallery closes its doors forever. Jeff’s going to school to become a helicopter pilot, perhaps proving that if there’s anything more unpredictable than relationships, it’s the art world.
JON HUCK: Couples | Jeff Electric Gallery, 3022 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake | Through July 13 — call (323) 222-9150 for appointment | Closing-night viewing, Thurs., July 12, 7-10 p.m. https://jonhuck.com/