High Art



High Art

directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Feature film

View a still from the film

In the opening minutes of High Art, we are introduced to Syd, an aspiring assistant editor at a glossy New York photography magazine. Scenes of her everyday routine unfold over a hum of dissatisfaction: at work, she contends with an underappreciative boss; at home, an overbearing boyfriend. Yet excitement waits for her on the floor above in the form of Lucy, a celebrated artist on indefinite hiatus. Despite the life-changing romance to come, the context of their first meeting couldn’t be much more mundane. Venturing upstairs to investigate a dripping ceiling, Syd is rewarded with a chat about deconstructionism and an unglamorous nickname: ‘the chick with the leak’.

Lucy’s apartment is just as drab, but Syd is drawn to its idiosyncrasies. Stylish snapshots fill the wall and powdered drugs line the tables, tempting her with a drastic change of lifestyle. Lucy’s domestic arrangement has superficial similarities to her own, though. Both women are suppressed by grimy interiors and stifling flatmates, some of whom prove harder to shake than others. Only a weekend trip to the countryside gives the lovers true escape. As light streams into their cottage, filtered through tree branches, all seems well. But they cannot abandon the city forever. Syd can only hope that the spark will not extinguish when the setting dims once more.

Words by John Wadsworth

Lucy, a renowned and reclusive photographer, comes out of retirement to capture a few fleeting frames of her lover lying in bed. In the images, Syd looks over her shoulder, clouded in white sheets, to meet the eye of the artist as an equal. Natural light floods the room to trace the ephemeral, shared moment onto the camera’s negative. Printed on the glossy pages of the photography journal for which Syd works, the snapshots of the interaction later move from private reverie to the public realm.

Initially, Syd may seem to be only a subject of photography, rather than an artist in her own right. But it is her form that sheds its shadow onto the camera film, and it is also her editorial eye that brings Lucy’s work back from the brink of obscurity. The shifting power dynamics between observers and the observed, and between performance and visual art, play out fluidly. The story finds a parallel in the cinematic format through which it is told, though this time the woman in the director’s chair goes unseen.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

More to discover

Watch a fanmade trailer for High Art here. Tom Cunha has interviewed the film’s director, Lisa Cholodenko, for IndieWire, as has Rachel Cooke for The Observer.

Question of the day

Do photographs always reflect the mind of the photographer?
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