News and Events
So long as we live on earth and not in a universe of mercury blobs or iridescent clouds, there will be a horizon line. Somewhere it is out there, dividing light from dark with a fuzzy circumference or knifing through between sky and earth like a scythe across our best compositions. Photographers of every kind have to deal with this visual intrusion either by incorporating it, obscuring it, ignoring it or not including it all. But our brains are so accustomed to it, that when it is not included, we imagine it into being at the slightest hint of its presence. So strong is this imaginative line that we can easily be tricked into thinking we see it when it is not there.
Reconsidering the Horizon, the current show at PHOTO, draws from the work of the Bay Area Photographers Collective (BAPC) and, brilliantly curated by Renny Pritikin, provides examples of each of these approaches. It is a photographers’ show about photographers’ odd concerns but remains entirely accessible to anyone with eyes to see and an ounce of healthy visual and artistic curiosity. But it requires close study because the images are not just technical solutions to a graphic problem, the photographers who made them were not interested in that per se. They are moving and gorgeous pictures of the world that just happen to involve the horizon either as a trick or as a component part of the composition. In isolation it would be ignored, but put the images together and you have a fascinating look at horizons and how they are loved, curried, tricked and made happy.
Steve Epstein’s photograph Sumatra MT, who knew, casually tosses the horizon on the centerline topped by a strangely leaning little house. In the foreground two fence posts lean in the opposite direction. A single white cloud hovers over the house. It is as if the cloud had just arrived and all the people of Sumatra have come out to watch its lonely passage. Jack Androvich Pai’s Sky and Wall, does the same thing by dividing this horizontal picture with a wall that looks at first like a horizon. Pai’s turbulent clouds swirl above saying “this is sky” while the wall says: I could be either wall or flat land pretending to be wall. Why do photographers do this? Why do they trick our eyes and why do they think skys have a location? It is because after looking at many skys they acknowledge that every geopgraphy has its own sky.
Thomas Lavin’s Doublewide Graveyard is not exactly about horizons either although the subject matter, old abandon doublewide trailers, becomes the horizon. They lie like beached sea creatures beneath an ominous charcoal sky. Broken and tippy they huddle together against the inevitable like so many dreamland edifices. Their inhabitants wore them out and went out and left these fragile shells of aluminum and glass, lovely sad husks of memory.
Irene Imfeld is a trickster and her Library Landscape is a trick picture masquerading as a landscape but in the end, it is nothing but a pair of windows reflecting sky above a concrete wall. The eye needs what it needs and reflections of this type arrived after our brains were already wired. It cannot quickly decipher what is cyphered in reflections and Irene knows this well enough to trick us again and again. In her Bathtub Wave another illusion presents itself as the edge of the bathtub becomes a horizon over a massive bathtub wave. Photographers love bathtubs, their shell of white undulating porcelain is always ready to caress the light one more time or spill out at an impossible angle or display an arm, breast, leg crisp as toast or lost and opaque as milk.
Ari Salomon’s panoramic Canal Street Railroad Bridge, Chicago is another sort of trick where Salomon wraps the entire horizon into one large 60” horizontal. The photographer located himself within one bridge tower looking out to the opposite side. The horizon is cut into triangular unworldly parts. Slightly to the right of center is the vertical sister tower marching heroically into the clouds but held back by a thousand strands of wire and steel. The overall impression is of the struggle and triumph of man against the leveling forces forever pulling toward horizontal, rest, surrender, decay. It is also an immediate and palpable celebration of the pure joy of vision, to be able to see at once so many different things in so many different ways.
Erin Malone’s Elsie Street leaves the horizon as she found it – lost in the mists of a San Francisco dusk, indistinct as memory after a week or so of doing other things and then trying to think of where you were on that particular dusky night, the one where you were together with someone who is gone. All that can be done is to remember the old curving streets, the poles and the trees dark as platinum. Or in her Four Chimneys the silver chimneys flaring upward with the rooftops listing heavily on the houses below, anonymous and lost to you now. Photography will always be associated with memory because of its casual inclusion all the telling details in one spark of time but these unmoored and horizon-less images with their patina of ancient processes reminds us of what is obscured by fog in the world once present but now not remembered.
Heather Polley’s lays out her Dunes at Abbott’s Lagoon in multilayers of green and blue green so the eye looks above a horizontal phosphorus line, a film artifact, into each layer above only to find another layer within and another until the real rocky hill horizon appears to be yet another layer that is floating so impossibly close that the eye returns to that mysterious phosphorus blue line and tries again to make sense of this enigma. Polley’s trick here is to incorporate the sky above within the composition below.
Steve Goldband and Ellen Konar deal with horizons in different ways with Mesa, St George Utah and in Election Vigil and Oval Revelation. In Mesa they fill the frame with a billowing incandescent sky which would mean nothing to us were it not for a mesa horizon line dotted with tiny silver buildings. This narrow band at the very bottom of the picture gives scale and meaning to the rest. We now see how big the Utah sky really is. In Election Vigil the subject is the enraptured and expectant crowd of political devotees beneath an oppressive and menacing chain of exploding flash and stage light forming a closed horizon of political control approaching from behind. Their disembodied expressionless heads appear as so many nodding puppets waiting for strings to pull them back to life. But, of course, they could just be a bunch of very tired young people sustained by hope.
Gary Weiner’s Not Hawaii is a characteristically calculated and spontaneous expression of being at a place where no other photograph could be possible: where weddings happen at a heaven-sent spot and where curtains billow and wave against the high bright clouds and where every person seems to stand in spontaneous illumination and where the bride and groom in a cube of white seem hushed in expectation waiting for their moment of transfiguration and, when it does come, that is the moment this was taken. In the foreground, arms akimbo, back to the camera, stands a child, seeing all a human eye can see, the photographers perfect foil and our stand-in observer, slightly disinterested, a bit bored. There you are. The horizon, never mind about the horizon, you can see bits of it though at knee height, exactly where it ought always to be, tripping through the crowd like a dancing cupid.
Adrienne Defendi’s print stands apart by the door. My Mother’s Perfumes holds within its frame just a shelf in the window above a falling curtain lit toward the bottom in waves of window light. The bottles of perfume, each shape etched in light from above and behind like ballerinas at the bar. The combination of the double hung windows reflections and the light through the darker lace curtains around the row of brilliant bottles creates a visual horizon that suggests the closing act of a grand play in miniature where lives are played out by the fragrance chosen for the day.
The country is running short on electric power. California is in danger of a massive brownout. What better time to turn to the vast and neglected resource growing all around us, plants. Just kidding, plants are not the answer, Robert Buelteman only makes it seem that way with his new series of botanical images that radiate energy.
If the images seem charged, they are, he uses high voltage probes. If they seem to come off the wall and float in space, that’s just a striking illusion. The images are made on 8×10 film so they enlarge easily. Notice the size of the images here and you will get the idea.
Irene and I had the pleasure of visiting Robert’s studio and were walked through the complex technique he uses. I could explain it in detail, but it would be meaningless. The technique was invented to create these particular images, it’s not translateable to another vision. Basically, Buelteman has gone back to one of the earliest forms of printing where the object itself, placed directly on the film, generates the image. The rest is and product of patient trial and error, technical work and mastery of technique.
The show will be up through June 29. The opening reception is tomorrow, Saturday, June 15 at PHOTO, 2 to 5 PM. Don’t miss this chance to meet Robert in person, he is a delight. He will also be back on June 29th, 3:00 PM, for an artist talk. The man can talk, don’t miss that either.
Margaretta Mitchell’s show just went up at PHOTO. These are pictures that go straight to the heart without message or excuses. It’s love at first viewing or you need vitamin therapy. With that in mind it’s useless to analyze these pictures, but I will say that they are nudes and portraits in the West Coast tradition but are less about form than character and inner psychology.
This approach goes goes back to Greek sculpture where myth and reality merged in stone. Interestingly, Margaretta established her early vision at the Temple of the Wings, that remarkable Maybeck Greek-inspired creation in the Berkeley hills. Margaretta grew with the history of the Temple, photographing dancers – it was a school of dance for many years. Her neo romantic visions evolved against the fluted temple columns and the harsh reflected light from the Bay.
We saw the depth of Margaretta’s work on a first visit to her house last year, then more on subsequent visits. The selection at PHOTO draws on this collection bringing threads together with some of her lesser know images and published favorites. The quintessential Berkeley savant Margaretta has woven herself into its history. She was a master of networking before the Internet and now even more so with the Internet. Still active and working she is doing a nude workshop at her house next week.
I just finished watching Yuri Boyko and Valeria Troubina install their show at PHOTO. It’s one of our most controversial and difficult shows. Each picture is suspended by thin monofilament to float in space about 6″ off the wall. At the entrance to the gallery they constructed a cube of four images leaning slightly outward. Inside the cube four lights create a slight glow through the paper of the images. Nothing about these arrangements has been left to chance. A similar level of control is shown in the images themselves. The model is shown against a ruby red or grey backgrounds in various ways. She appears to be trying on masks, body paint and arranging herself in awkward poses as if attempting to find an identity that works.
Photographically the images are as flawless as the model, almost too perfect. But what does all this mean? Well you can listen to Yuri and Valeria on Saturday at PHOTO (2.8.13, 3:00 PM) who can explain their intentions and/or you can read my speculations and reactions to the photographs themselves.
The model looks as if she has been dropped via starship transporter to the surface of a new planet and is not quite sure if she can take her first breath. Bereft of the restraints but also of the comforts of culture, she appears to be between moods and attitudes lost in the possibilities she cannot absorb. She has the mechanics right, everything about her is perfect. Yet she is a robot-being looking for identity in a place that has no culture or norms worthy of her consideration. Welcome to the world we have fashioned. In our relentless efforts to destroy illusions and discredit any cultural assumptions, but our own, our beautiful new models cannot fine a place for themselves.
So its an uncomfortable confrontation that I encourage you to not miss.
Also, check out their web sites:
It takes courage to be an artist. It begins with just making a mark and goes all the way to the combat photographer who stays in the line of fire.
But I am talking about the small things that take courage too, street photography, asking if you can do a portrait, or like the guy who just brought his portfolio into the gallery to show us what he has been working on for many years. Each print was beautifully, lovingly made. And the locations were distant places where few go. Not like a Galen Rowell hanging by an ice axe kind of place, but spiritually difficult places of mind-bending loneliness. These are hard places to take an 8 x 10 camera to and to set up a shot in the sun and know that you will be just as alone the next day and for maybe weeks. That takes courage, but bringing it into the public and letting people then judge the worthiness of your efforts and the value of your vision that’s part of it too, of what it takes. No one can trivialize or take away what you have made, but still, it is an act of courage to lay em on the table, flat and defenseless and say here I am.
January 19 – March 3, 2013
48 Wharf Road, Bolinas CA 94924
Open: Friday 1 – 5 pm; Saturday 12 – 5pm; Sunday 12 – 5pm
Reception: Saturday, January 19, 3 – 5pm
If you missed these masterful black and white prints at PHOTO here is another opportunity to see them. The Bolinas Museum Photography Gallery will present about half of the photographs that were on display at PHOTO in October/November.
For more information about the exhibition, please visit the museum’s website:
The Sacred Grove photographs currently on view in the gallery are from another world of photography, a world rapidly passing away. This is partly because film is quietly disappearing and partly because the skill to work with film is no longer being learned. Of course people will still make pictures with film, thank god, but doing so will soon be a skill set similar to other complex print making skills like lithography or knowing how to pull a print from an etched copper plate.
So the Sacred Grove series reminds us not to abandon film or loose the level technique Michael Starkman displays so triumphantly here. Anyone who has tried to take photographs in a redwood grove will understand how much technique is involved. There is nothing quite so dark as redwood bark in the shade. The range of light moving up to full sunlight is well beyond the range of film. But with the right light and the right time of day it is possible. Michael knows.
Speaking of technique, the “Faking It” show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York has gotten a lot of press. It pretty much ends the discussion as far as I am concerned. Photographs have been faked from the beginning. If you need evidence, for example, of a crime scene then you need the to know the chain of custody: who took the pictures and who processed the print, etc. Otherwise it’s art. This should be liberating for photographers because there is no expectation from the audience that the image has to be real. Unless, of course, it appears on Facebook. Those are real.
Michael Starkman’s SACRED GROVE
Exquisite black and white prints of the Mendocino Woodlands are now on view. The show opened for Art Gallery Week, concurrent with October’s First Friday event. The artist’s reception on the following afternoon brought an enthusiastic crowd to hear Michael Starkman speak about his project and describe his experiences among the trees.
Sacred Grove will be shown through November 10. Don’t miss these superbly printed silver gelatin prints.
SF BOTANICAL GARDENS BENEFIT
PHOTO’s benefit event, September 13, brought out a big crowd to to talk with the artists and to support the San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park. We have retained a number of prints from the Botanicals exhibit. They are available in our side gallery, along with other images from gallery artists.
MIDWINTER PRINT FAIR, January 4 and 5
We are lining up artists to begin the new year at PHOTO’s MIDWINTER PRINT FAIR. This will be a casual presentation where you can meet the artists and talk with them about their photographic projects. Participating artists will be announced mid-November.
NEXT EXHIBIT: JOHN F. MARTIN’S IN CHARACTER. Opens November 15
STREET CLOSURES FOR FIRST FRIDAY ART MURMUR
The City of Oakland is now closing Telegraph Avenue on First Friday evenings for street performers, food trucks, and crafts vendors. This keeps the little side streets, especially 25th in front of PHOTO, relatively clear so you can enter more easily. Remember we are open all afternoon if you prefer to visit before the Art Murmur crowds. All galleries in our building close promptly at 9:00 on First Fridays.
Saints and strippers. Bold forms, soft beauty, reflections on childhood and aging. The iconic theme of the body, with its timeless desires and doubts, is explored in this exhibit.
Join us on Friday, August 3, to meet the artists at the Oakland Art Murmur. Reception from 6:00 to 9:00.
Artists in this exhibit are: Judy Dater, Cay Lang, Nicolo Sertorio (image shown below), Wendy Sacks, Bob Adler, LeRoy Howard, Charlotte Niel, Jan Camp, Ralph Singer, John Watson, Adrienne Defendi
In our side gallery we are showing Square Wheels, fun and quirky images of local street photography. Kirk Thompson has captured the Berkeley streetscape by focusing his square-format camera on its cars and other wheeled vehicles with attitude.