May 10, 2019
One of the real values of fine art photography is that it stills the world for us. That doesn’t mean that it documents reality for us, though it does that. A fine photograph gently reins in our visual field, subduing the nature world that we scuttle through with a velocity that’s almost indecent.
All art does that, of course. If it is its job, art allows us to see the world in new ways. Photography inverts that; it provides new ways to see a world we think we know.
The new photography exhibit at the Washington Art Association features 63 images that may make viewers from this area astonished at what they’ve missed.
That’s because, with a few exceptions, these images are drawn from the geographical corpus that is Northwest Connecticut. These are ridge lines we’ve passed, streams we’ve trundled over. But the force of the exhibit is the revelatory tenor of this tender, deeply organic exhibit.
This exhibition showcases photographs from 17 members of the Washington Art Association in a group exhibit of 63 images. Curated by Chris Zaima and Hugh O’Donnell, each of the works is presented on foam board in a design of Zaima’s choosing. The work is deliberately devoid of any idiosyncratic preferences for framing. The decision to crop most of the work to the bleeding edge of the image was a curatorial choice to create an even hanging and to minimize any visual noise that may distract from the work.
What they give us are intricate portals of astonishment. Whether in the appraising eyes of an enormous cow on old Rabbit Hill, or the anomalous stalks of sunflowers jutting out of a field of snow, or a dock extending into a flat blue lake pulsating with rain drops, these are areas of mundane wonder.
It’s the availability of images like Vi Owens’ “Thoreau Bridge-Winter” that is so satisfying. Here is a classically composed Claudean winter scene of a river whose bare trees collapse hungrily toward the swiftly moving current. The scene, like so many in this exhibit, is lit from the center, the penetrating sun caressing the water as it laps away from the viewer.
Several of these landscapes, from Susan Reinberg’s riotous “Misty Hills” to Mark Isolda’s coruscating “Autumn Cornfield” to Carolyn Wallace’s “Cornwall Morning” quote liberally from the lighting of Frederic Church. These are haunted, nourishing landscapes, filled with stalwart conifers and crimson maples that suggest the Hudson River or tonalist schools. Isolda, in particular, is drawn to sharp, vibrant juxtapositions of color and texture. His “Autumn Cornfield” pops with an enormous sky of dazzling blue against scuttling charcoal and linen clouds. Below, the saffron and lime-green grass elbows against the opaque undersides of brittle cornstalks.
Some of these photographs, like Sallie Ketcham’s “Descending Clouds,” seem inspired by Stieglitz’ pictorialism. This is a photograph that has all of the evocative texture of an impressionist painting. Still others, like Ketcham’s “Azore Green,” capture slices of summer at its craggy, sea green best. Here is a moss-shrouded outcropping of rock under a blizzard of emerald leaves.
Although most of these works are landscapes, some capture everyday objects like spoons, glasses or the filthy backside of a corpulent laborer.
Among the most hypnotic images, however, is Jeffrey Kellner’s “Ambivalent No. 3.” Here is one half of a single leaf, its true autumnal colors seeping out of its veins, resting on a pile of pebbles. Droplets of rain, like varicolored crystal orbs, speckle the leaf, accentuating the myriad of tea, nutmeg and saffron colors throughout the blade. Set against the soft blue and granite shades of the rock, “Ambivalent No. 3” is a meditation on time – the deciduous leaf decaying on the more ancient rocks beneath.
Oddly, not all these works depict Connecticut. The opening gallery features some luminous images of Venice by Elizabeth Richebourg Rea. Avery Danziger’s chilling images of the former Harlem Valley Psychiatric Hospital in Wingdale, N.Y., are haunting with their flecking paint of confectionary good humor. And surely the two zebras playing in Michael Bowman’s work, are non-native.
But take a minute to look at Emery Roth’s “Calf Light” and “Rabbit Hill Welcome,” two images of cows – two in a landscape and three straining to reach the hay in their trough. These are native species known to us. And Roth’s lighting gives their glorious, pacific heads docility and dignity. In a way, his calves possess all of the reverential tranquility as Mio Akashi’s gorgeous black-and-white of church interiors just adjacent.
The exhibit runs through June 8.