I have been off painting and sculpture of late and now find myself drawn to big photos much in the same way I am drawn to tapioca pudding. In both cases I am fascinated by mankind's vision and technology to create such wonders, but disappointed that each has the tendency to leave me with a sugary taste in my mouth and empty feeling in my stomach considering such a high calorific intake.
I really didn't put this new pursuit into perspective until yesterday afternoon when I stumbled upon a meaningful show, Motherland by Simon Roberts, at the Klompching Gallery here in DUMBO. As you can imagine, it was a giant relief to see a photo show, specifically a large format photo show where the size of the prints was in direct relation to the quality, impact and meaning of the subject and story. And as one can imagine, this is something that doesn't happen much in this age of large format Digital Type C Prints. You know what I mean, we have all walked into a gallery or even a museum and said to ourselves, "Wow, those are big, they must have cost a lot to print". No matter what those spam emails tell me on a daily basis, bigger is not always going to impress the ladies. In fact, I have been downright miffed by some the big photography I have seen at ground level, big name, Chelsea galleries the season. Although it's not worth the time and effort to name the galleries or photos that suck (or to answer the hate comments left on the Nova Clutch blog), I will go with the spirit of the season and share the stuff I really loved. How's that?
1. Edward Burtynsky: Quarries at Charles Cowles Gallery (Closed)
Know him, love him, can't live without one of his prints, but I will have to for now. Initially I didn't know how to look at these photos. I walked around quickly to take them all in and then made a second and third round to move beyond the size of the prints and the vastness of the space captured within to bring me to a place where I could enjoy the composition, color, details and story. Talk about the will to move mountains, the ingenuity, the technology and the brute strength compared to the smallness of the cars, trucks and buildings. Now this is modern sculpture on a massive scale, not just the palace where the stone actually went. Art capturing life creating art, yes.
2. Amir Zaki: ? at Perry Rubenstein Gallery (Closed)
As my dearly departed friend George once told me at the age of 80, "I think I really started to see last month when I saw beauty in an ugly town that I never really looked at before". I think this may be what Amir Zaki has thankfully discovered at a much earlier age. I was immediately struck by the monumental format and presence of this photographer's urban landscapes. Like ruins of an ancient civilization, these images, anonymous residue of urban sprawl and strip mall culture, are singled out and made worthy of their existence. Adorned with hypothetical logo marks and signage, the buildings are taken further from their original and forgotten purpose and transformed into a relic of some parallel universe. Although some of the logo marks can come off as a bit too Stargate ( http://stargate.mgm.com/ ) for may taste, his accompanying digitally informed "scribble" sculptures are intriguing on their own accord.
For me the Motherland was the mother load. Here the large format captured the vastness, simplicity and complexity, hope, struggle and heart of the Russian territories, peoples and cultures. It would have been easy for this talented young Briton to take exceptional yet expected shots, however, even when he takes a picture of the ubiquitous Brutalalist Soviet apartment blocks he captures something different; a serene acknowledgment of deterioration without sentimentality or apology. Each and every photo created connection between this viewer and the subject because the Roberts has engaged the land and its inhabitants over the course of a 365 days, 75,000 kilometers and 11 time zones.
Can these men help save the world of large format photographic prints? Da, pravda.
All photos are from the photographer's respective websites.