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“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
It is said that every portrait is a self-portrait but I would venture that a landscape can be a self-portrait, too. The best ones become metaphorical, conveying emotions that move us beyond their outward beauty. Exhibiting in New York City right now, three of today’s most ingenious photographers illustrate the point: Jungjin Lee in Opening at Howard Greenberg Gallery through November 10th, 2018; Todd Hido in Bright Black World at Bruce Silverstein Gallery through November 3rd, 2018; and John Chiara in Pike Slip to Sugar Hill at Yossi Milo Gallery through October 27th, 2018.
Jungjin Lee’s landscapes are places but not locations – the numbered titles in all of her series eschew this specificity. And indeed, Lee’s images have nothing to do with location and everything to do with space, elevating her earthly scenes into otherworldly expressions that amplify an “inner state of mind, the eternal sense of being open and present.”
Lee crystalizes her vision in B&W and most of the prints in Opening are narrow verticals, like Eastern totems with positive and negative spaces in yin-yang harmony. A spare choreography of line and form realize lush physicality in the inky blacks and soft whites embedded in the sinuous fibers of her hand-coated Korean Mulberry Papers.
Lee’s photographs are meditative, personal experiences. An alluring serenity escorts us into her frames, where visual elements such as abstraction, perspective, and reflection serve as an ”opening” to deeper sanctuaries. In one, the delicate streak of a short, bright horizon splits the weight of the sea from a hovering, dark sky, creating an abstract introspection on fragility and tenacity. In another composition, Lee’s tilted perspective extends from the shadowy depths of a ravine, soaring upward to a jagged slice of sky, a symbiosis of the ancient and shifting rhythms of life. Lee echoes the subjectivity of our perceptions in her images of water and its distorted reflections of the physical world. In her hushed, sensual contemplations, Lee encourages the eye to search, the mind to roam and the soul to settle.
Todd Hido’s acute foreboding suffuses the photographs in Bright Dark World, his latest work and the first made primarily outside the United States, in Iceland and northern Europe. As the title implies, Hido underscores visual dualities, expressing a worldview charged with psychological, political and ecological dichotomies. As if to emphasize how inconsequential precise place is to his landscapes, he does not name his images. Rather, Hido’s system of assigning long strings of numbers accentuates a sense of individual insignificance in the crush of outside forces.
Hido’s images usher us into an internal, infernal world that seems forsaken. Why would we follow him to such an emotionally dark place? The purely visual splendors are irresistible: Hido’s compositions peak curiosity, beckoning us into tangled forests, across barren fields and up roads that vanish into the unknown; his use of contrast is riveting, wherein vast spans of moody darkness erupt with glimmers of light; his hues glow, radiating the altered palette of an alien land; and often, Hido’s images bear the smudges and distortions of close-up, unfocused water droplets, his signature veil of tears.
In Bright Dark World, Hido creates his most moving work yet, a potent union of visual and emotional expression. The symbolic weight of Hido’s landscapes is humanized in the sole photograph of a person, a woman facing away into a black abyss, her hands clasped behind her, pulled between the past and future, the known and unknown. Of course, she stands for our hopes and fears, as do all of Hido’s apocalyptic scenes. Despite the inescapable desolation, Bright Dark World intimates that light can be detected in the darkest places, and that the stunning finality of our mortality is, in fact, profoundly beautiful.
In Pike Slip to Sugar Hill. John Chiara’s innovative methodology transforms the overworked subject of New York City landscapes into an altogether unexpected and spectacular new perception. Employing a 50”x 40” handcrafted camera and precision barrel lens mounted to the back of a pickup truck, Chiara exposes images of Manhattan buildings and skylines directly onto a scroll of color photographic paper that he inserts into the back of his camera. These direct exposures onto photosensitive paper reverse light and shadow, as well as colors, with astounding effect. It’s like Alice in Wonderland, where things are at once real and very unreal.
Chiara has been using his painstaking method to create photographs for some time and last year published “California” depicting his home state. His latest work in Manhattan is a thrilling interpretation of the decidedly un-Californian verticality of the most populous city in the United States. The distinctive alchemy of Chiara’s technical, high-resolution clarity with his intentionally skewed perspectives, the homespun physicality of his huge, hand-cut glossy prints, and the dizzying inversion of his color exposures produces an electrifying experience. This is a complete revision of New York City, literally.
Chiara’s optimism is exhilarating and contagious. With his dynamic camera angles, accentuated geometric patterns and psychedelic color shifts, he transforms eyesores like fire escapes and bridge underpasses into vibrant musings on structure and space. And although his color inversions also confer an eerie surrealism, Chiara’s glowing apartment windows emanate cheer, delicate leaves rustle in counterpoint to soaring monoliths, and smoggy skies become colorful crowns. In Pike Slip to Sugar Hill, Chiara renews the Manhattan landscape, challenging ingrained assumptions and delightfully reawakening our sense of wonder.
For more information about Jungjin Lee’s exhibit Opening at Howard Greenberg Gallery through November 10th, 2018 or to purchase the book Opening (Nazraeli Press, 2017), go to: http://www.howardgreenberg.com/exhibitions/jungjin-lee-opening
For more information about Todd Hido’s exhibit Bright Black World at Bruce Silverstein Gallery through November 3rd, 2018 or to purchase the book Bright Black World (Nazraeli Press, 2018), go to: http://www.brucesilverstein.com/exhibitions/todd-hido_3
For more information about John Chiara’s exhibit Pike Slip to Sugar Hill at Yossi Milo Gallery through October 27th, 2018 or to purchase the book California (Aperture and Pier 24 Photography, 2017), go to: https://yossimilo.com/exhibitions/john-chiara