Place is a transient thing. One is always somewhere, but over a lifetime there are many somewheres. In a major new exhibit taken from an upcoming book by Ray Merritt, there are photographs by more than 20 different artists who are best known for their images of specific geographic places. The artists range from grand masters to accomplished artists exploring photography as a medium, and are as diverse as the places they capture on film. The exhibit, Photography of Place is at The Palm Beach Photographic Centre from March 25 to May 6th.
The artists hail from all over the world. A few of the standout artists include James Croak, a well-respected sculptor living in the East End of Long Island. His most well-known work is a series of dirt sculptures where he combines dirt and resin to create an unusual material for his work. What is not as well-known is his photography work of nature at night. This is the first exhibition of that body of work.
“The series is called “The Other Twelve Hours” which I have been creating for 10 years and have accumulated about 30 worthwhile images,” Croak says by phone from his studio during the Stella blizzard hitting New York. “Until the advent of high ISO cameras, circa 2005, twelve hours of the day were basically locked off to photography. Attempts to shoot at night resulted in star trails and other artifacts. Nor could film with flash achieve the dynamic range that digital can at night.”
“This series came from out of nowhere actually. I was wandering around my backyard at night trying out a new camera and took a shot. The result was really something – it had a sense of menace, I mean you can only see a few inches in front of your face at night right? You’re constantly wondering what’s out there. So from that I found myself wandering around in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona with a flashlight and a camera. The desert really comes alive at night, something you come to realize after living in the city for a long time. You never notice the sky and out there it’s all about the sky. I’ve also been thinking about getting older, what the future holds and it can be scary but the desert is such a physical presence that it becomes an escape from my own psychology of being cynical. I use no flash and no Photoshop, the wonder is what you are going to get in these pictures as you just don’t know what you’re going to accidentally capture. In the photo of the magnificent bamboo tree forest in Japan I didn’t notice the sky shape made by the trees is the shape of the island of Japan until someone else pointed it out. It was pure coincidence. Film has become a lot more difficult as digital cameras have become so advanced and the world is just flooded with images now.”
Another notable Long Island artist in the show is also Croak’s neighbor, April Gornik, one of America’s premier landscape painters. She uses her photographs as essential tools for her art which is gorgeous ethereal landscapes of ponds and fields and even underwater scenes of sharks. Sharks have become a cause celebre for her, as she works with catch and release groups in Long Island for tournaments to raise awareness of how sharks are being ruthlessly hunted out of the seas, throwing the eco system off balance. Presented here are photographs that served as the basis for her paintings.
The most notable, remarkable artist in the show is Robert Frank, the 92 year-old Swiss-born American photographer and filmmaker whose 1958 book, The Americans, unearthed a portrait of America that was far different that anyone was depicting at that time. Isolation, oversaturation of city life, despondency, all these undercurrents came to the surface during a cross-country car trip he took with his family sponsored by a Guggenheim grant. He shot over 28,000 pictures, an expensive undertaking back then (and now) due to the nature of film and processing. The book when published contained just 83 black and white images and became the most influential photography book of the 20th Century.
Jack Kerouac of On The Road fame wrote the introduction where he says “That crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukebox from a nearby funeral, that’s what Robert Frank has captured in these tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically 48 states in an old used car and with the agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film. After seeing these pictures you end up not knowing whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin.”
Frank is still a bit of an outsider and considers the old school is finished.
“I was tired of romanticism,” he said in an interview. “I wanted to present what I saw, pure and simple. The kind of photography I did then is gone. It’s old. There’s no point in it any more for me, and I get no satisfaction from trying to do it. There are too many pictures now. It’s overwhelming. A flood of images that passes by, and says, ‘why should we remember anything?’ There is too much to remember now, too much to take in.”
Despite Franks death knell, his images are still riveting, the glare of the lights and the edgy black and white tones fly the flag of an underground America.
Photography of Place, exhibiting through May 6th at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre located at 415 Clematis St, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. For more information, please call 561.253.2600 or visit www.workshop.org or www.fotofusion.org.
Photography of Place Exhibit, a new show with photographs by more than 20 different artists who are known for their images of geographic places.