When was the last time you saw a really good photographic print? I am not just talking about a decent image; I mean a great print of that image. My guess is you probably have not seen one in a while, at least not on a gallery wall in Chelsea (with some exceptions).
But, take the train a little further, and you will come across a new group exhibition in Long Island City, which showcases works by four photographers who are brought together, if anything, by their sophisticated craftsmanship. It’s called, “The Second Annual Group Show” and it opened last week on March 21st at the B.S. Gallery.
Matina von Rettig, a Finish artist residing in New York, freezes objects into ice then photographs her creations just before they melt. Each piece of ice, often spherical in form, gets its own portrait, and each portrait looks like a completely different enchanting gem.
For one of her photographs, Ms. von Rettig froze licorice in salt water. The water mixture caused the licorice to lose its color and turn yellowish, while the salt caused the ice to turn white. The result is an orb like, bright white cracked eyeball looking down, with a small transparent hint of yellow that hangs on the bottom like an iris. Ms. von Rettig photographed this white eyeball against a black background, making the contrast even more powerful.
Ms. von Rettig has been creating these ice formations for just over a year now. In January 2013, having just finished her first semester as a full-time student at the International Center of Photography, von Rettig went home to Finland for a week. It was here that she started playing around with ice and light, documenting her experiments with her camera.
“I have no idea how many different things I tried,” she said. “Maybe over 50. Some worked, some did not.”
But it wasn’t until a few weeks later when she sat down to looks at her photographs, that she realized the possibility of a project.
“It still amazes me how something so ordinary as water and light can be so beautiful,” she said. “The visual transformation that occurs when I add one more element, no matter how small, changes the look and feel so dramatically.”
She has not stopped making ice sculptures since. She has also discovered that the process is somewhat of a metaphor.
“Water, the symbol of knowledge, just like emotions, exists in a constant state of change,” she said. “I use that solidified moment to demonstrate the beauty and complexity of emotions.”
Ms. Von Rettig has a degree in business administration, but 3 years ago turned to photography, painting and drawing.
“I am not very good at verbal communication and have always found it hard to express myself through words. For me photography, drawing and painting feel more natural and comfortable,” she said.
When Ed Cheng is not programing computers or assisting master darkroom printers in New York City, he is traveling around the world, documenting different versions of the Christian Holy Week and other important ceremonies.
Ceremonies like the Las Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain, which he photographed in 2011. Held in honor of Saint Joseph each year before the spring equinox, this festival is categorized by a whirlwind of costumed activities, from the building and burning Styrofoam statues to fireworks and floral offerings for the Virgin Mary.
“The inspiration really is a reflection of people telling me their experiences of the event,” said Mr. Cheng. “And I enjoy things burning.”
The burning to which Mr. Cheng refers can be seen in one of his photographs. Here, a larger-than-life size, voluptuous Styrofoam statue (if the word “voluptuous” can be applied to a Styrofoam statue) of a woman in fishnet stockings seems to be suspended in the air. All is dark, except her one bent knee, which has been caught in the light from the fire below her.
In another photograph, a young girl, barely a teenager, is wearing a long, dark, traditional Spanish gown with white lace ruffles, a matching veil, and a sash that says “Cort d’honor.” She holds one arm above her, elbow bent, and the other out in front of her with her hand flexed. She looks beyond this hand out to the right of the frame. She could be dancing or warding off evil. Other children, less in focus, are behind her, holding flowers.
Mr. Cheng first heard about the festival in 2006, when he was living in Seville for 4 months. That same year, Easter, which he was documenting, fell late and he figured out a way to squeeze in a trip to the festival first.
“I enjoyed the costumes and the kids processions that mirrored the adult processions,” he said. “I loved that there was something always going on. From constructions of the statue to the fireworks waking people up in the morning. The neighborhood association lunches and dinners and their camaraderie; and the fireworks that closed out each night.”
Photographer Sumner Wells Hatch is showing works from his Momento Mori: Ojai, California, 2010 in this exhibition. This is a series of photographs defined by exactly what the title suggests: Momento Mori, which in Latin means, “Remember, you are mortal.” But, Momento Mori also refers to the objects kept as reminders of this inevitability.
Mr. Hatch, who is based in New York, had flown to Ojai for his aunt’s funeral. It was here in the downtime, between the wake and the funeral and time spent with family, that he took these photographs.
“I was just sort of blacked out and all I could do was wander around and take pictures,” said Mr. Hatch.
There is an eerie sense of calm in these photos, almost like an eye of a storm. Light pokes through a road overhung with trees, Hatch’s shadow leans against palm branches.
In one photograph, a dark swimming pool fills a little over half the frame, where it then meets a bright diving board hovered over several tones of flat, gray rock. In front of the diving board, a thin hose releases water into the pool. The composition and tones of this untitled photograph are what makes it the best of the Ojai series.
In another photograph, shadowy trees spiral around a small, white house in the distance. Each tone of shadow, light, and earth can be seen as its own clearly defined being.
All of the photographs in this series were taken with a handheld 35mm camera, a far reach from Hatch’s typical instrument, which is a large format 8×10 view camera.
Hatch said that because he was grief-stricken, he was able to access a different voice.
“These photographs were taken in a heightened state of vibration,” he said. “They were taken in a moment of insanity. And yet the photos do not seem insane.”
In this sense, this is what makes them the perfect Momento Mori.
Ben Simon, who runs the B.S. Gallery, creates is low-relief photo collages, otherwise known as shadow boxes, which he achieves by cutting up his photos and reassembling them raised above the background. His subject matter often includes famous pieces of art, such the 15th-century Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpture, La Pietà, his version of which is hanging in the exhibition. La Pietà shows Jesus dead in Mary’s lap while Mary mourns his sacrifice. Mr. Simon left the image as a negative and so you almost feel as though you are looking at an x-ray of the scene.
“This is a story many identify with,” said Mr. Simon. “It tells an ongoing story about power.”
When asked about this further, Simon cited the news.
“Increasingly, I have become aware that the story I see most is the battle between big and small,” he said, giving the example of how the value of money increases while that of individuals does not. “It has been an echo in our culture through out history. I believe the proportions of this fight and the cost of the outcome is greater now than it has ever been before.”
Through his work, Mr. Simon hopes to reference this battle from what he calls our “collective history.”
Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is another work of art Mr. Simon deconstructed, which he also left in the negative. This one is particularly interesting because the women appear era-less and even more naked. You can see their bellybuttons.
Simon was born in New York City, but grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey before attending the Tyler School of Art where he majored in studio art. This is the second show he has organized at his gallery.
“I put it together because I believe that artists need to create their own opportunities to keep their networks active,” he said.
Article by Rena Silverman