The Top Five Photos Shown in D.C. This Year
Black-and-white photography has long ago moved into the realm of retro, but that shift only seems to have enhanced its cachet. In today’s cluttered visual environment, black-and-white is the equivalent of comfort food—and this critic, at least, ate it up this year. In this selection of the top five individual photographs exhibited in the D.C. area this year, all but one, an unforgettable creation in color, are rendered in shades of glorious gray.
In descending order, my picks for the best photographic images of 2014:
1. Lisa Tyson Ennis, “God Bless Our Home, Abandoned Outport, Newfoundland”
Ennis’ contributions to the Glen Echo Photoworks exhibit “Mirror to the World” were uniformly strong, but her photograph of an abandoned settlement in Newfoundland was a tour de force of mystery, distortion, and fading memory.
2. Larry McNeil, “Elders”
In the National Museum of the American Indian exhibit “Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson,” McNeil delves into Native American iconography, including a series on feathers. One ultra-close-up is particularly notable for its ability to simultaneously communicate smoothness, steeliness, confidence, and fragility. (On view through Jan. 15.)
3. Christine Pearl, “Slam”
Pearl, a D.C.-based construction project manager-turned-photographer, has taken a deep look into the fading, blue-collar demimonde of demolition derbies. In an exhibit at Hillyer Art Space, Pearl dwelled lovingly on the cars in all their dented glory, but her finest image showed a man, mid-swing, wielding a sledgehammer, framed by a roughly cropped onlooker and a bulldog—a fine embodiment of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment.”
4. Kim Keever, “west 131f”
Adamson Gallery’s landscape exhibit included three monumental works by Keever, a New York-based artist with a peculiar technique. He created miniature tableaux of nature (rocks, trees, vegetation, fake snow) within a 200-gallon tank of water; he then shined colored lights and dropped in fluids to mimic atmospheric elements like skies and clouds. His finished works, measuring 40 inches by 59 inches, are at once realistic, fantastical, and eerie, calling to mind works by the luminist painters of the mid-19th century.
5. Steve Goldenberg, untitled
Goldenberg’s contribution stood out from a generally strong Leica Store exhibitof works by the STRATA collective, an eight-photographer network based in D.C. and San Francisco. Goldenberg photographed a boy swimming in a pool through a water-splattered, translucent surface. The filter distorted the boy’s face into a grotesquerie worthy of Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Edvard Munch.
Bonus pick: Marley Dawson, “08. Untitled”
This was a video work rather than a photograph, but its creative use of black-and-white visuals earns it a spot on this list. Shown at Hemphill Fine Arts, the work consisted of low-definition footage that exuded the soft, peaceful rhythm of a sonogram. The footage showed a stylish race car, surrounded by ethereal bubbles that traced an aerodynamic arc around the car, as if in a wind tunnel. The video was mysterious, with a secret only explained once the viewer passed through a small room of etchings by Martin Puryear and happened upon an inconspicuous nook. There, a small box containing mineral oil, a miniature car sculpture, and a bubble device provided the source of the live feed initially viewed. The piece worked equally well as an initial enigma and its subsequent explication.
What Once Was – Our Changing Fisheries
Opening June 28th – 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Hauntingly beautiful photographs by Lisa Tyson Ennis document an ancient coastal way of life which is fast becoming extinct. Included are photographs of remote fishing villages in Newfoundland accessible only by boat. Lisa Tyson Ennis works solely with historical processes: large and medium format cameras, black and white film, handmade toners, and oil paints. Each image is hand printed and painted with light in a traditional wet darkroom. Ennis’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Tides Institute, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Portland Museum of Art.
Exhibit – Saturday, June 28 through Tuesday, July 29
If by chance you are in DC in the next few weeks please stop by Glen Echo Photoworks Gallery and check out the exhibit Mirror to the World, a documentary photography exhibit curated by nationally known photographer Frank Van Riper. Here is a recent article in the Washington City Paper about the exhibit:
Rodeos and Abandoned Landscapes at Annual Documentary Photo Exhibit
Frank Van Riper knows how to pick ‘em. The veteran photographer (and, full disclosure, my wedding photographer from more than a decade ago) has curated the sixth installment of the annual documentary photography exhibit at Glen Echo’s Photoworks, “Mirror to the World.” As usual, the five photographers he’s tapped have all produced notable work.
Keith Hans, a retired Air Force officer, uses high-detail aerial photography to document the site of the D-Day invasion in Normandy. Meanwhile, using lively color, Paul Sharratt of Takoma Park photographed the J Bar W Rodeo in Union Bridge, Md. (second from bottom)—a full-on western event less than 60 miles from D.C., complete with bucking bulls, sheep-riding, and a wincing cowboy being attended to while lying on the ground.
With his black-and-white photographs of New York City street tableaux (second from top), Eli Koppel channels Garry Winogrand (whose work currently happens to be on view at the National Gallery of Art). A foray into color produces an ethereal view of a girdered tower that resembles the works of Corinne Vionnet, who layers dozens of found tourist images on top of each other to produce hazy, pastel-hued composites.
D.C.-based photographer Eric Johnson came upon the inspiration for his series when a downtown Waffle Shop shut its doors before he had a chance to photograph it in action. Since then, Johnson has traveled widely to document down-home restaurants in moody black and white, from Ben’s Chili Bowl to Montreal’s Gibeau Orange Julep, with its landmark orange, several stories high. Of special note is Johnson’s image of Nathan’s Coney Island (bottom)—a loving portrayal of the place’s old-fashioned signage and the two police officers standing casually out front.
But the most impressive work in the exhibit comes from Lisa Tyson Ennisof Lubec, Maine, a spot near the U.S.-Canada border. The photographer documented weirs—low-tech but elaborately constructed barriers that have been used for generations by fishermen—in U.S. and Canadian waters. The weirs she photographs are largely disused, standing as a symbol of over-fishing and long-term economic distress.
Visually, Ennis’ images are mesmerizing. Her fine-detailed, black-and-white portrayals of fencing and netting are delicately chiaroscuro-ed and lovingly arranged in their geometry—an homage to the work of Michael Kenna and, yes, Van Riper and his wife/photographic partner Judith Goodman.
Even more striking are Ennis’ images of a settlement abandoned 50 years ago (top). If the fragile, tumbledown cabins don’t grab you, then the artist’s narrow depth of field will, fuzzing the background to add a dash of surrealism and make these real-life settings look like they were constructed from toy miniatures by the photographer David Levinthal.
Through May 5 at Photoworks Gallery, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, Md. Sat 1-4 and Sun 1-8.
The Times, Trenton Edition, “Defining ‘Beauty'”, Janet Purcell, January 11, 2013
My website lisatysonennis.com has been updated with new images.
I live part of the year on Campobello Island in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada. Most of my neighbors are fishermen, and through them I became aware of the current state of our fishery – a horrifying reality of which I had been only tangentially aware. The extreme overfishing of our oceans, primarily by giant industrial trawlers that scoop up everything in their path, has left the seas practically fished out — an empty, watery desert. Many would agree that this is an unthinkable addition to our current environmental crisis.
Last summer I set out to visit communities in Newfoundland whose entire way of life has been destroyed by the collapse of the cod industry. Many of these communities (called outports) are so remote they can only be reached by boat – no roads have ever been built to them. Many, many outport communities have been abandoned (also called “resettled”) since the early 1960’s, and many more were resettled in the early 1990’s when the cod fishery was essentially closed, forcing fishing families to move and find new ways to make a living. Many now work much of the year away from their families in the oil industry in Alberta, Canada.
One extremely remote community on the south coast of Newfoundland, Grand Bruit, which was originally settled in the 1800’s, was in the process of being resettled when I visited. The inhabitants had sadly agreed that it was in the best interest of the community to leave their houses, school, church, cemetery and treasured fishing grounds in order to survive. The Canadian government has paid them a sum for their houses and in June 2010 will shut them off the grid and discontinue Provincial ferry service – their sole means of transport to and from the outport to the outside world.
After visiting Grand Bruit, I headed to the north coast of Newfoundland hoping to find a willing fisherman to take me out to an outport community called Indian Burying Place, which had been resettled in the 1960’s. I wanted to see what fifty years of abandonment had done to a community – was there still a presence there? I was able to go and photograph and was saddened to see how quickly time had ravaged such a previously thriving community – especially after just having visited Grand Bruit. But as I wandered in the cemetery there, I did feel a warm and welcoming presence of former inhabitants – maybe it’s not entirely abandoned.
With a deep sadness trailing me back to the Bay of Fundy, I began to notice the traditional and sustainable form of fishing that many still practiced there – fishing with weirs. Weir-fishing was originally practiced by the Romans, and the Passamaquoddy Indians used them in this country for hundreds of years. Weirs are huge nets strung on poles which are secured to the ocean floor. The tremendous tides of the Bay of Fundy (approximately 28 feet) draw fish, primarily herring, into the mouth of the weir. Once inside the weir, the fish swim in a figure-eight pattern, always being directed away from the mouth by the shape of the net. As I traveled around to various islands in the Bay, I became fascinated not only by the sustainable nature of this ancient form of fishing but also by the weirs’ varied and haunting forms. I began to photograph them – primarily in low light and fog– hoping, with the necessary long exposures, to suggest the swirling tides and moist, soft atmosphere. I hope to continue photographing the weirs this summer and to learn more of this ancient tradition.
Places Lost: In Search of Newfoundland’s Resettled Communities, by Scott Walden, 2003
Herring Weirs: The Only Sustainable Fishery, by Rick Doucet and Richard Wilbur, 2000
Cod, by Mark Kurlansky, 1997