remembrance and respect: Photography
by Jonathan Moller.
By David Brickman
for Photography at Woodstock, through May 25
The word that best defines contemporary art in the postmodern
era is pluralism, and the current incarnation of the Center
for Photography at Woodstock’s annual Photography Now
series exemplifies it.
Ten photographers from across the continent were chosen by
George Eastman House curator Therese Mulligan from a field
of 265 who submitted more than 2,000 slides. An overview of
the choices made would suggest that Mulligan was intentionally
representing the diversity of the offerings, perhaps with
a certain slant toward the self-consciously forward-looking.
Hence, we have out-of-focus work (a powerful trend at the
moment), digital prints, toned prints, images mounted on metal
and magnets, collages, and paired juxtapositions, along with
some good old-fashioned gelatin silver prints. An interesting
result is that the strongest body of work in the show, by
Denver, Colo.-based Jonathan Moller, is also the most traditional
in approach and technique.
It’s possible that this is due in part to the fact that Moller
alone has five prints on view, while the others have either
four or three (making 38 pieces in all). But it seems to me
that work sometimes gets placed in this type of exhibition
for its innovative qualities when its strength as art is perhaps
less-well-realized. It’s also possible that the idea of attempting
to show what is going on in the vast world of photography
with such a small exhibition is too tall an order—one ends
up wishing there were a lot more space devoted to a juried
show with this much drawing power.
Among the artists whose work suffers from the presentation
is Rockport, Mass., artist Paul Cary Goldberg, who shows three
prints from one series and one from another. Though both directions
are successful, they are so different that Goldberg was obligated
to write two separate statements for the gallery wall, clarifying
a rather muddy situation.
The singular piece by Goldberg is a moodily lit still life
with a painterly quality reminiscent of Vermeer. Square, color
and digitally printed, Blue Pitcher tiptoes very near
the line that separates fine art from commercial illustration,
but retains the subtlety necessary to keep it in the personal
Goldberg’s other series, showing massive, ghostly vessels
seen at dock after dark, is among the strongest work in the
exhibition. He uses minimal composition and expressive color
to create near-abstract images that evoke an ephemeral sadness
from the mute, rusting hulks he depicts.
Also deriving inspiration from the aging industrial landscape,
Albany’s Allison Hunter presents three small-scale inkjet
prints on vellum; two of them come from her Vacancy
series, which was seen in a one-night show sponsored by the
Historic Albany Foundation last fall at the former site of
Albany Center Galleries.
That series exploits the potential of digital manipulation
in the most subtle and effective way I’ve seen yet, by smudging
out the background and placing the leftover structures (the
Tobin meat-packing plant and Central Warehouse in this instance)
in an ethereal landscape that perfectly connotes the loneliness
these buildings would feel if only they could. The extremely
delicate black-and-white prints retain a classic photographic
look despite being digitally processed and output.
A third piece by Hunter, taken at the Port of Albany, has
muted color (whether added or reduced—or both—is anybody’s
guess) and graphic black outlining. I think it would have
benefited from having some support in the form of other pieces
from the series—standing alone, it doesn’t seem convincing
Yet another photographer in the show whose work is digitally
printed is A. Leo Nash, a native of western Massachusetts
now living in Berkeley, Calif., Nash’s work fits into the
documentary category—he has been shooting for years at the
annual Burning Man festivals in the desert of Nevada, where
the concept of a ’60s happening has taken on gigantic proportions.
The four panoramic black-and-white Iris prints that Nash shows
here record some of the large-scale creations that accompany
this bizarre gathering of the tribes, and they are appropriately
odd-looking, especially when juxtaposed with the surrounding
landscape. But they raise an issue for me, in that they rely
as much on the strength of the art represented as on the eye
of the photographer for their content. Not incidentally, the
best among them (of giant dominoes arrayed in the desert)
is the only one where the maker of the objects depicted remains
In a completely different vein, New York City resident Bill
Armstrong presents a series of four large color c-prints titled
Masks & Skulls. These very soft-focus prints exploit
candy colors to give an ironically cheerful feel to floating,
bloblike, nightmare images. But, like sugary treats, they
don’t have a lot of staying power.
Equally ethereal are the three diminutive tea-stained silver
prints by James Reeder of Napa, Calif. Nonrepresentational,
these appear to be photograms (shadow prints), and they resemble
work in that medium made quite a few decades ago by Man Ray.
Apart from a nostalgic sense of novelty, it’s difficult to
see what in this work set it apart for the juror.
Far more engrossing are four collages by Mary Daniel Hobson
of Muir Beach, Calif. Though bewilderingly described in the
juror’s statement as being “of the female figure,” Hobson
is in fact working with the male, and very successfully. She
combines layered black-and-white prints with found objects
to breach the surface of the subject and develop allegorical
One very small piece homes in on a hand as it presses a colored
pin into a map, staking out a metaphorical territory. Another
larger construction places a brass keyhole in the middle of
the subject’s chest, delicately yet forcefully expressing
the desire to see below the surface, to understand the muse.
Her other two pieces are equally evocative—Hobson is a welcome
Other artists in the show include San Francisco Art Institute
student Gregory Hipwell, who presents coldly calculated views
of public spaces; Robert Goss of Somerville, Mass., who tears
a page out of the book of Dada with his magnetic interactive
collages; and Tinton Falls, N.J., artist Sandra Johanson,
whose Reconstructions seek to refresh our view of commonplace
sightings through juxtaposition.
But then there’s the stellar black-and-white documentary work
of Moller, which clearly stands apart from the rest of this
selection. Moller sensitively details the forensic and familial
process of exhuming human remains in Guatemala, where people
are still coming to terms with what happened to the “disappeared”
there during the 1980s. Working as a virtual insider (he was
in Guatemala as a human-rights advocate for nearly a decade
before taking these pictures), Moller has captured images
that verge on the exploitative but manage instead to be reverent—they
honor the dead as well as the survivors, and could very well
extend the stated purpose of the exhumations and reburials
themselves, “to allow the survivors to begin healing . . .
expose the truth of what happened and, in some cases, to seek
Based on the promise shown in these five works, his forthcoming
book should place Moller firmly in the history of humanist
photography, along with greats like W. Eugene Smith, James
Nachtwey and Susan Meiselas.
Please note that the Center for Photography at Woodstock’s
normal hours have been amended for the duration of this exhibition:
The gallery will be open Thursday through Sunday from noon