Photography Exhibit at the C. Grimaldis Gallery Explores Architectural Borders by Cara Ober
In a world where photography has become a ubiquitous tool for online propaganda, it’s refreshing to walk into a gallery full of large, expertly printed, purposeful photographs. Except for a few small groupings of snapshots, the great majority of the prints on display in Within/Without, a group exhibit featuring ten photographers at the C. Grimaldis Gallery, are huge. For those who think size doesn’t count, think again.
It is this monumentality that invites you to dive in to the rich textures, intricate details, and dramatic shadows necessary to make an exhibit of architectural photography relevant. These photos envelop you, visually reinforcing the concept explored by the diverse group: the profound emotional effect of the human-made spaces around us.
Although architecture tends to be an anonymous art, there is no other type of design that impacts human beings so significantly. It’s not just that it provides a roof over our heads or a place to store our ideas and our stuff. Unlike ‘art for art’s sake,’ the built environment impacts us directly–from the incised patterns in the tin ceiling we we wake up to, to the generic strip malls passed on a morning commute, to the ability for daylight to penetrate our working spaces. Personally, I cannot imagine living in a house with new doors because I love old doorknobs so much! That would be a tragedy too awful to contemplate. The details in old houses make me happy.
The architectural styles and ideas that surround us have the ability to delight and depress, to energize and deplete. It makes perfect sense that photographers would be intrigued by the built environment and, rather than simply capturing it, challenged to present unique visions where place, time, and light intersect into fleeting moments.
Wouter Deruytter: The Sphinx #1
There’s something salty about Wouter Deruytter’s giant images of the Egyptian Sphinx captured from interior view points and other odd angles. Cropped and devoid of its famous nose-less face, these photos allow you to focus on smaller and more interesting details, like the shape of the creature’s giant toes (claws? paws?) and the variety of odd shaped bricks and stones that form it. Printed at an imposing and decadent size, the viewer is still able to be in awe of the size of the structure, feeling overwhelmed by its details and mass, but also amused by the human imperfections which make it charming.
Most dramatic in this exhibition are the works of Marja Pirilä, who projects natural camera obscura images onto architectural interiors. This otherworldly combination of dramatic landscape silhouettes on buildings with age and character is a show stopper. Especially in images of Milavida, a decaying mansion built in 1898 in Tampere, Finland, the contrast between the baroque gingerbread molding and the chaotic shadows evokes a visceral passage of time, where decay is romanticized and entropy is cinematic. This otherworldliness is enhanced by their imposing size, where exquisite architectural details are visible in the highlights and shadows.
Marja Pirilä: Milavida #16, 44 x 34.3 inches
And then, a contrasting interior from Neil Meyerhoff that is toasty, warm, and peaceful. Interior Stairway With Shoes is an intimate view of a home that is well loved and its large steps invite you in.
Alfredo Jaar: The Sound of Silence
Alfredo Jaar’s The Sound of Silence has been exhibited at the gallery in the past, but the portfolio of 15 pigment prints, at 20×30 inches each, is highly successful in this context and rounds out the conversation about space to include politics and history.
The grid of 15 photos present different views of Robben Island Prison off Cape Town, the complex where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served. Although the site is now closed, Jaar’s images capture the dread and hopelessness this structure imposed. The series is not just an exercise in photojournalism, it presents an emotional journey. The composition of Jaar’s grid presents the place from numerous different views all at once, giving the viewer a sense of it’s experience from a distance and up close, from inside and outside, inspiring some of the apprehension a new convict surely felt when approaching this structure by boat. In addition, it’s installation as a tall grid towers over the viewer and its lines suggest the bars of a prison.
In his Baltimore series, Marcin captures the secret places where homeless people create temporary homes within the city. These images are surprisingly cheery, almost like embellished camping sites; there is ample evidence of creativity in each structure, which reflect the unique personalities of their inhabitants. Without any people visible, these encampments humanize and create empathy for their builders, making you realize that you might make some of the same decisions, given similar circumstances.
This photo glows off the wall because of its intense portrayal of nighttime lighting with multiple artificial light sources. In addition, its display as a C-print mounted on aluminum with a slick and shiny surface, adds depth and lustre to the mysterious image. It is placed strategically in the gallery for the longest view possible and it is powerful enough to attract a viewer to view it up close all the way from the other end of the gallery.
Bernd Radtke digigraphie print, 13 x 39.5 inches, detail belowClose up of flowers? Meh. I am not sure how this fits with the theme of ‘built environment’ but I guess there’s always that one piece in the group show that doesn’t fit.A grouping subtly digitally altered images by Frank Dituri. In this context, size matters! Even though they’re arranged as one large swarm, these images would have benefitted from being larger, especially next to so many other oversized works.
More from Bernd Radtke. In these larger square prints, the velvety blacks function like a Caravaggio painting, setting a lush backdrop for subtle detail and texture, adding drama and contrast to intimate interiors. Their viewing experience is pleasurable and allows you to discover details methodically, like an art detective.
Three images by John Ruppert explore unusual perspectives towards space, however they are so different from one another in subject, size, and proportions, it is difficult to read them together. As individual images, each presents formal compositions and rich textures as well as flattened perspectives, but the grouping, even in spite of their great size, distracts from their power and makes them feel gimmicky. I would rather see a more consistent selection where the artist’s exploration is systematic in solving a visual problem.
As with most group shows, some works are stronger than others. In this exhibit, certain pieces are louder and bolder, while others hang back, more traditional or more quiet. As a whole, the majority of the photos in this exhibit are presented in an optimal way. This makes a huge difference in aesthetics and content; their scale in relation to the viewer lends power and presence. For me, Within/Without offers delight for the eyes, and these luminous images are so much more endearing to experience because they are embedded in flat surafaces and not a glowing screen.
Within / Without at the C. Grimaldis Gallery will be on exhibit through January 16, 2016.
Featuring: Wouter Deruytter, Frank Dituri, Alfredo Jaar, Isaac Julien, Dimitra Lazaridou, Ben Marcin, Neil Meyerhoff, Marja Pirilä, Bernd Radtke, and John Ruppert
Author Cara Ober is Founding Editor at BmoreArt