Debe Arlook, Diana Cheren Nygren, Najee Dorsey, Cathy Cone, Miren Etcheverry, Dennis Geller, Bill Gore, Marcy Juran, Deborah Kaplan, Lisa Ryan and Gordon Saperia
March 9 – June 9, 2021
Virtual Exhibition Reception/Artist Talk April 25, 2021 4pm EST
This exhibition all started in one of my classes last August. Numerous students presented work that challenged the planes and layers of everyday living. In particular, the works by Bill Gore and Dennis Geller spurred on the shaping of this exhibition. At first look, I found their photographs confusing yet very exciting. I quickly tried to unravel the cause of my off-kilter posture, as I am not one to ever dismiss digital intervention or novel pathways.
Since I’ve known Bill Gore, he has produced work grounded in real life and often spiced with wryness and serendipity. He would vacillate between photographing open land and city scenes through to commercial retail lots; all places we inhabit. His Life could Be A Dream series was definitely a departure from his familiar and mine. Bill was recalibrating and to grasp his reasons, it was time for me to turn the dial towards “I” for “insight” as well. His artist statement I share here, was a beginning step.
“These photographic works are assemblages of images that are drawn from my everyday life. My process uses digital imagery to deconstruct photographs into 0’s and 1’s, mix them into a digital bardo, and bring forth a new vision with abstract forms that carry the secret narratives of their ancestor images. I am drawn to the possibilities of everyday subjects mingling in a space where the present and the past are compressed into the moment. While the means is digital, I see the outcome as physical prints that celebrate color and form together with literal narrative. I search for models and metaphors in ordinary subjects with which I have a long acquaintance as I explore my own fragile and aging relationship with my environment.”
“The Land bears constant witness and reveals itself as an endless stream of images. But the conscious mind is selective, and memory illusive. ‘My Life Could Be a Dream’ series works in the realm of perception and illusion and explores our mental processes of combining new and remembered visual inputs while we create our own realities…” – Bill Gore
Dennis Geller’s path began in exploring representational subjects in his photographs. He honed his perception in the studio and then the forest. Deeper dives into the language of photography brought him to explore the presence of light in the everyday as well as articulating the physicality of emotions in the abstract, the science of vision and the dimensions of time and change.
For many of us, over the course of the past twelve months, time has been irrelevant. Days blend. Memories shift. In “Coronaland” the interpretation and measurement of time passing seems not an exact science. Exploring Geller’s and Gore’s photographs prompted my thinking of our present-day experience in a pandemic, sheltered for safety, isolated yet stimulated by the imagination and our impressions of what is seen and felt.
But even in normal times, reality is tied to fantasy. A dream state can give way to inquiry upon waking as to whether one’s memories were fact or fiction. Reading a book or watching a movie leads to an altered mindset. The characters in any story are authentic only until the very last page, the credits roll or they are recalled from memory. At “the end” we grieve for the loss of characters we have come to know and the worlds they inhabit as if we were participants in the stories with them.
Digits: A Parallel Universe is intended as a conjectured and separate plane of reality, that co-exists with the photographer’s own here and now. Each photographer has invented her or his own fiction. There is digital intervention in every photograph in the exhibition yet the methods vary as to how the altered results are manufactured. The viewer is reminded of what it might feel like to be in a changing state, time or dimension.
There are eleven photographers in Digits: A Parallel Universe. The photographers are: Debe Arlook, Diana Cheren Nygren, Najee Dorsey, Cathy Cone, Miren Etcheverry, Dennis Geller, Bill Gore, Marcy Juran, Deborah Kaplan, Lisa Ryan and Gordon Saperia.
Debe Arlook photographs landscapes of the American West. She hoped that through her images in Forseeable Cache she could communicate the experience of how the resultant energy of meditation feels and looks. She has spent a lifetime pursuing spiritual growth.
Diana Cheren Nygren’s photographs in When the Trees are Gone, come straight from her imagination as a cautionary tale. Each of the six photographs depict city living in crisis. Told through the veil of humor and prophesy, we see high hopes that art can be an impetus for change.
Hand Painted Photographs by Cathy Cone is a blending of two worlds. First, the final imagery is pulled from the past to rise transformed in the present. The tintypes change from standalone antique portraits to objects infused by a modern breath and brush. Rather than relying just on the photographic image or just a painted artifact, Cone’s amalgam of mediums shapes her unique narrative.
Najee Dorsey digitally collages narratives of Black life in history and present day that must be retold and remembered. Two of his artworks in Digits: A Parallel Universe feature prominent African American artists; Kara Walker and Basquiat. Walker is famous for her cut paper silhouetted narratives haunted by the atrocities of slavery. Basquiat’s work has been attributed to elevating graffiti artists to the art scene. In 1982, the sale of Basquiat’s art set a record for the highest price ever paid at auction for an American artist’s work.
Miren Etcheverry uses family photographs and digital assemblage to create portrait tributes to the female family members and friends who have influenced her life. She calls these digital creations her “goddesses”. The title of her compilation of all this work is called Oh My Goddess! Most of Etcheverry’s family live across the Atlantic in France but in her studio they all are a “desktop” away.
Marcy Juran blends digital processes and family photographs in Family History | Family Mystery, her altered reality where generations of her family can gather in one place.
Deborah Kaplan creates her own language from photographs she’s made in nature in Syllabary for a Natural World. These natural symbols are true digits. As Kaplan mentions in her statement, she “aims to recreate a language that never was, but which ought to be”.
Lisa Ryan’s family was constantly on the move. As a result she says she was always trying to orient herself in new environments. She uses infrared photography to show her anomalous perspective as a “stranger in a strange land”. * Infrared light lies beyond the visible light spectrum and can’t be seen by the human eye.
Gordon Saperia looks for the grand landscapes as he travels the world. He is not shy in using digital manipulation to augment the original photograph to represent his emotional response to a scene. Sometimes it is minor color shifts or contrast moves. Other times he combines elements to shape a “brave new world.” **
Imagining has been an important pastime for me over the course of my personal life and work life. It was integral for my parents as well. They provided creative outlets in our daily lives. As an example, they made my brother and I a playroom in our home where we could create whatever we wished to spark creativity. My brother hammered nail upon nail into the wooden floor boards until it was a continuous sheet of metal nail heads. And now as an adult, he is an inventor. I chose to paint the ceilings and walls with scenes recalled from dreams or the books I read. Once out of school, I painted murals in peoples’ homes to make a very modest living.
In my youth, science fiction and fantasy were my favorite books. Arthur C. Clarke was a favorite author. His science fiction stories were great fodder for the imagination. Clarke dreamed of possibilities that came to be fifty years into his future. He saw “imagination, coupled with science, technology and the arts, care of our planet and humanity as precious and essential elements of our future survival.” ***
Carl Sagan was another favorite dreamer. He is known as an American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, poet, and science communicator. He also wrote the science fiction novel Contact, that was the basis for a 1997 film of the same name. He is credited with saying, “Imagination will often carry us to the worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” ****
From all these things, the germ of the idea for this exhibition was born. My gratitude to the artists for their enthusiasm and their very forward and creative thinking.
May we all now “Live Long and prosper.” ***** – PFT
*Stranger in a Strange Land is a 1961 science fiction novel by American author Robert A. Heinlein.
** Brave New World is a dystopian social science fiction novel by English author Aldous Huxley.
*** From Arthur C. Clarke Foundation
**** Carl Sagan
*****A catch phrase and hand gesture made famous by Star Trek, the tv series. When two Vulcans greeted each other or said good-bye they would make a Vulcan salute by holding up a hand and moving the pointer and middle finger to form a V and they would say the phrase “Live long and prosper” at the same time.
The Photographers of Digits: A Parallel Universe:
Standing on sacred Native American land surrounded by sandstone buttes and rock formations, I felt a whoosh of indescribable energy that reverberated within me. In stillness I hovered between an alternate awareness and the presence of my surroundings. With closed eyes, the landscape left a colorful imprint on my eyelids. Foreseeable Cache began here, in the sublime beauty of the American West, where spiritually minded practices and Native American beliefs teach us that land is sacred and body, mind, spirit and heart are connected.
Diana Cheren Nygren
Surroundings play a dominant role in shaping experience. Born out of three series, this project imagines city dwellers searching for moments of relief in a world shaped by climate change, and the struggle to find a balance between an environment in crisis and manmade structures. The beach becomes rising tides, threatening the very foundation of the city. The clash of nature and city results in an absurd profusion of visual noise and little relief. The resulting images lay bare challenges to city planners, and the problematic nature of the future that lies ahead for humanity and the planet. My work as a photographer is the culmination of a life-long investment in the power of art and visual culture to shape and influence social change. These compositions challenge the viewer to question the images. It is not reality, and not the future, but one possible future. While the images in the series When the Trees are Gone have an apocalyptic tone, they are inspired also by humor. Ultimately, this work is not pessimistic. I am hopeful that, as many urban planners and landscape architects already are, we can find new approaches to urban design.
Hand Painted Photographs
My grandmother raised me. She was born with a large birthmark in the shape of a fish that covered her chin and neck. She referred to it as her purple stain. When I was young she would often tell me the story of how it happened repeatedly throughout my childhood. She told me her mother cut her finger cleaning fish when she was pregnant with her. Her mother put her finger up to her mouth immediately to stop the bleeding and according to my grandmother, “marked her”. Her mother died as a result of my grandmother’s birth several weeks later. Had she explained it any other way I would be a very different person today. I saw it a beautiful pattern imbued with magic not an imperfection. My grandmother suffered through stares and pointing fingers often as I was holding her hand. These kinds of folk stories and explanations were part of my childhood and nurtured my imagination. They held a transformative power as a kind of magical soul medicine.
I begin by scanning tintypes that I started collecting in the late seventies. The printed photograph then becomes a contemplative ground for painting. They are independent of each other physically, historically and on many other levels. The painted photograph essentially is a duet in which two mediums may contribute towards a whole. The integrity of both exists simultaneously in a shared physicality through and on the photographic print. The composition is essentially a duet where both mediums of equal importance. I’m interested in the translation of these found tintypes by reanimating or resuscitating the portrait. I think of the portraits as time travelers while painting late night seances. With the help of technology, the scanned tintypes often lead to new clues perceptually. It provides a field for painting and mark making. Perhaps they’re tarot cards from outer space. It’s my way of re-touching history.
As an artist, Najee Dorsey has developed much in his craft over the years, and has become known for his mixed media collage, digital media collaged images of little known and unsung historical figures, as well as nostalgic scenes from African American life in the southern United States. In his work, as Najee chronicles moments in Black life throughout history, he maintains that, “stories untold are stories forgotten”.
My Oh My Goddess! series celebrates the women who have influenced me. Most of these women are part of my extended family, and are living full and active lives in southern France, where I am from. A few of these women have now passed, but their memories live on. Among these women are my mother, my grandmother, my mother-in-law and other relatives.
During the recent period of the pandemic and its associated restrictions, the distance between me, my family of origin and friends has never seemed so great. Knowing that I am no longer just a simple airplane flight away from visiting them saddens me.
These playful depictions of these women reflect happy moments spent with them, while I am here and they are far away. During my period of confinement, I revisited my personal collection of photographs and transformed these ordinary women, giving them a breath of new life, and capturing their lively spirits and dynamism. I mean to convey what is most beautiful about them, reinterpreting that beauty, even transforming them into goddesses.
I come from a long line of strong women. During my life, I have continued to surround myself with strong women. They are my role models and the source of my own strength and feminist spirit. Indeed, they are my goddesses.
These images, grouped under the title Visual Pathways, encompass two themes, both motivated by the mechanics of our visual system. The images on our retinas are not like stills of a movie. A spot on the retina shows chemical activation based on all the images it has seen recently, not just the light that it is seeing “right now”; later in the brain these successive smears of chemical activation are refined to the movies that we “see.” Some of the images here tease out that effect by showing the changes in a scene as a few moments pass, letting the parts that remained the same fade into the background. Elsewhere in the brain, the processing of color and tonality are handled by separate pathways; others of these images invite us to imagine what we would see if one of those pathways were handled differently. All the images in the group play on the difference between what we see and how we see it.
The Land bears constant witness and reveals itself as an endless stream of images. But the conscious mind is selective, and memory illusive. My Life Could Be a Dream series works in the realm of perception and illusion and explores our mental processes of combining new and remembered visual inputs while we create our own realities.
These photographic works are assemblages of images that are drawn from my camera. My processes use digital imagery to go beyond the camera and deconstruct images into 0’s and 1’s and mix them into a digital bardo where the present and the past are compressed into the moment. While the means is digital, I see the outcome as physical prints that combine abstract elements of color and form together with literal narrative.
I am drawn to the possibilities of digital imagery as an artistic avenue into questions about the conscious mind and the formation of belief. I search for models and metaphors in ordinary subjects as I explore my own fragile and aging relationship with our uniquely American culture.
What is the truth of a family’s history?
This question has often occured to me as I examine the nine boxes of family photos and albums entrusted to me after my mother’s death in 2016.
Many of the images were familiar, as they were pasted into the family albums that my sister and I had poured over as a child, my first introduction to photography. My mother captioned and dated many of them in her loopy left-handed cursive. I was fascinated with the stories as well, tales of both my mother’s and my father’s extended families who had come to America in the early 1900s from Russia, a few steps ahead of the Czar’s pogroms.
But other images were new to me, as they had been given to my mother when other family members had passed away. Memories and mysteries rose from the musty boxes as I sifted through time, over 100 years of my maternal and paternal families. Many of these photos were unlabeled and not dated. With the loss of my mother, there were questions unanswered with no one left to ask.
As I considered what to do with this legacy, I saw recurring threads across the generations – faces, gestures, locations – and a narrative began to emerge. In this body of work, Family History | Family Mystery, I have chosen to explore the story of my mother’s maternal family through the lens of five generations of women, from my great-grandmother, Jenny, who arrived here in 1905, through my daughter Sara, born in 1990.
In digitally layering and blending these images, I mix photos across decades – vintage studio images, snapshots from the thirties through the nineties, and more recent digital captures. I have also incorporated some of my own landscape and botanical images from Connecticut, where the family settled after arriving at Ellis Island; many of these marry with the settings where the original photos were made. In creating these images, I have chosen to disregard time and place, instead imagining events and conversations that might have occurred, in locations which are also layered and blended.
Personal and family memories are told and retold, becoming a collective family history which may or may not be “true”. But this history becomes the truth as we know it. And in the oft-quoted words of Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
Mark making. Symbols. These are some of the earliest efforts of human beings. This series, Syllabary for a Natural World, reaches back to prehistoric expressions of mark making to explore the innate complexity and language of the natural world, to restart a process of abstraction and understanding. Through photographs of everyday woodlands, by means of digital modification and mark making, I aim to recreate a language that never was, but which ought to be.
It has been said that if we do not have a word for something, it is unacknowledged, hard to bring into consciousness as an actual thing in the world.
I examine the linear forms of tree trunk and branches, of leaf and stem, as they reframe themselves into an infinite set of almost repeating, but ever-changing patterns. The physical recording of years of growth and eons of evolved complexity balanced and whole is visually palpable. And here the language arises.
May we bring the complexity and balance fully to consciousness. May we develop a language as deep as nature itself.
Finding My Way
My family moved around a lot. Rarely was everyone on the same continent, much less in the same country. I was always trying to orient myself to the new environments. My sense of direction remains challenged, but I have found many diverging paths, wonderful places along the way. Infrared photography, a different wavelength of light, shows us more detail and fascinates with false color.
The Painted Pixel
I am honored to be part of the Griffin Museum of Photography group show “Digits: A Parallel Universe”. Much of what I attempt to accomplish as a photographer is consistent with the vision for this exhibition.
The grand landscape has always been my preferred subject. Mountains, sea, plains, and deserts all bring me joy and allows me to express myself through image making. Photographing landscape in low light allows for wonderful visual opportunities.
Creating unique landscape images is a challenge. Digital manipulation and significant post -processing afford me the opportunity to meet that challenge; I’m able inject some of my emotions present at the moment of capture. The result is an altered reality using techniques I like to call “pixel painting”.
The six images chosen by the curator, taken in the Atacama Desert (Chile), White Pocket (Arizona), Provincetown Dunes (Massachusetts), Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Tibetan and Bolivian Plateaus, are representative of my interpretation of the world’s natural beauty.