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Book Review A Kind of Prayer Photographs by Kimowan Metchewais Reviewed by Brian Arnold "This richly illustrated book presents a series of Polaroids, collages and paintings made by Metchewais roughly between 1997-2004. Matchewais did a BFA in Alberta before getting an MFA at the University of New Mexico, he then went on to a teaching career at the University of North Carolina Chapel..."

A Kind of Prayer By Kimowan Metchewais.
A Kind of Prayer
Photographs by Kimowan Metchewais

Aperture, New York, 2023. 268 pp., 150 illustrations, 7¾x10½".

“Refusing to see one’s self as others do means that one’s inner sense of who one is, one’s assurance of personal identity, is severely shaken… A new conception of personal purpose and a novel style of life may result, but they can be based only on the cultural traditions one knows.” 
— Hildred Geertz

I graduated from college in 1993. I don’t remember too much about my graduation ceremony, honestly, I can’t even tell you who gave the commencement speech. I do remember one thing vividly, a kid sitting just a few seats away from me. I don’t think I ever knew his name, but I do remember that his graduate gown looked more like a costume than a ceremonial robe. He’d painted colors and patterns on the hat and stenciled some characters on the back of his gown. Our paths had never crossed before, but through the course of the ceremony I did learn a few things about him: he was from a Southern Ute reservation nearby and the first of his family to graduate from college. When he walked on stage to receive his degree, his family went nuts, and between his costume and his body language, his graduation appeared as both a victory and an act of defiance. In Southern Colorado, the campus was close to reservations, but I’d venture a bet that he was the only Indigenous person in my graduating class.

There is more I can say about this, but this memory did surface again while reading the new Aperture monograph A Kind of Prayer about Kimowan Metchewais, a Cree artist from Alberta, Canada. This richly illustrated book presents a series of Polaroids, collages and paintings made by Metchewais roughly between 1997-2004. Matchewais did a BFA in Alberta before getting an MFA at the University of New Mexico, he then went on to a teaching career at the University of North Carolina Chapel. A Kind of Prayer also includes text contributions from photographer Jeff Whetstone (who writes an amazing eulogy to Metchewais’s career at UNC), archivist Emily Moazami, art historian Christopher T. Green and some very poignant pieces by Metchewais himself.

A Kind of Prayer
is a remarkable book, portraying Metchewais as an artist of incredible intellect, sensitivity and creativity, but also shows him in perpetual conflict, caught between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures. He thought of his work as fully contemporary and reflective of his time, developed within the Eurocentric canon of fine arts discourse but also rooted in Indigenous creative traditions. Kimowan was referencing Matisse while simultaneously reflecting on his early life on a reservation in Canada. This conflict of identity was richly rendered in his multidisciplinary practice.

Most of the book is Polaroids, a photographic medium that I find deceptively tricky. The ease and simplicity of the process allows for very casual and undisciplined seeing, and, with little control over exposure, it can also be a bit clumsy. In the right hands, however, Polaroids can still be surprising and refreshing, providing incredible opportunities for spontaneous realizations and a raw, unfiltered vision. Metchewais employs these attributes beautifully, using the informal nature of the medium as a sketching tool to make pictures that feel both urgent and deeply personal. Some of these pictures function like diary entries — documenting trips back to his home in Alberta, to the Washington Monument (an interesting juxtaposition) and portraits of his family and friends — while others capture performances in which Metchewais acts out identity issues for the camera. There are also Polaroids documenting small sculptural pieces and studio projects, others are cut apart and taped back together or have quick thoughts scribbled on the white frame. Collectively, these lend A Kind of Prayer the feeling of a sketchbook, an intimate look into how an artist generates ideas.

The collages and paintings reproduced retain a sense of informality — you can often see the pieces of tape used in assembling them, and ledger paper was one of his favorite supports — but nevertheless feel more ambitious, and thus more like fully realized ideas. All the works presented in A Kind of Prayer — the paintings and Polaroids alike — are rich with symbolic meaning. By photographing bingo signs, antlers, pottery, tobacco and even ledger paper, Metchewais continually brings us back to his origins. In an essay called “In Search of Live Relics in Cold Lake,” he tells us: “My studio has been a laboratory where I have conducted an archaeology of the self.” This essay provides a great deal in helping us understand his work, specifically the personal and cultural languages he utilized. In explaining his archaeology of self, Metchwais also talks about “live relics,” a way of understanding art that is both historical (relics) and part of our current state of being (live). He tells us live relics are the cultural and personal layers at the core of art, not always seen and recognized, but nevertheless they are what give pictures their meaning.

I want to circle back and say a bit more about my experience in school. While I never met the classmate I mentioned earlier, in college I did visit a reservation in Northern New Mexico. I was in a 3-week intensive photo class on the American West, and the bus driving all us students around took us to a pueblo village in northern New Mexico to make pictures. It was an adobe village with minimal plumbing and only wood for heating and cooking. A bus load of white kids showing up to photograph didn’t feel right to me, so I ditched the class to photograph a cottonwood grove and some mudflats outside the village. We then left for Taos where we met the great social geographer Cotton Mather, who gave us a lecture in a parking lot outside our motel. He talked about the importance of recognizing the native presence as an essential part of this landscape’s history, but he didn’t quite tell us how.

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Brian Arnold
is a photographer, writer, and translator based in Ithaca, NY. He has taught and exhibited his work around the world and published books, including A History of Photography in Indonesia, with Oxford University Press, Cornell University, Amsterdam University, and Afterhours Books. Brian is a two-time MacDowell Fellow and in 2014 received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation/American Institute for Indonesian Studies.
photo-eye Gallery New! Julie Blackmon Image + National Gallery of Art Acquisition Jovi Esquivel This week we're celebrating represented artist Julie Blackmon, with the release of a new image and news about her recent acquisition by the National Gallery of Art.

Julie Blackmon, Soap Bubbles, 2023, Archival Pigment Print, 22`x29", Edition of 10, $4,000

This week we're celebrating represented artist Julie Blackmon! 

photo-eye Gallery is happy to introduce Soap Bubbles, a new image by represented artist Julie Blackmon, and absolutely thrilled to share that two works by the artist have been acquired by The National Art Gallery in Washington!

Blackmon's artistic vision knows no bounds as she consistently delivers works that are both fantastical and skillfully executed. Her latest piece, Soap Bubbles, captures a surreal scene of unsupervised children frolicking on the stone porch of a dark, mysterious house. The attention to detail is impeccable, with the eldest child focused on producing a colossal bubble, while one of the youngsters, perched on the parapet, indulges in snacks. In another vignette, a baby looks on in awe at a bubble that floats above, with a bottle of dish soap lurking nearby. Blackmon's ability to create such intricate and whimsical imagery is a true testament to her creativity and artistic mastery.

"This piece was inspired by an 18th-century French painting by Jean Siméon Chardin of the same name. I had watched my own nieces and nephews making giant bubbles recently, and I guess just seeing something like this in this present day and age that goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years is always intriguing to me. Just that connection to the past... as much as things have changed, there's still so much that remains the same in our daily lives. I think the idle time of children will always be compelling subject matter to artists."
—Julie Blackmon

Jean Siméon Chardin, Soap Bubble ca.1734

(Soap Bubble is currently available at the base price in all three sizes)

The National Art Gallery Acquisition

Julie Blackmon, Flatboat, 2022 – The National Gallery of Art, Washington

We are thrilled to extend our warmest congratulations to Julie Blackmon for the recent acquisition of Flatboat and Paddle Board by The National Art Gallery in Washington. It is a huge honor that recognizes her incredible talent and ability to capture the essence of everyday life in her art. Blackmon's unique style is captivating and relatable, and we're excited to see her work getting the recognition it deserves. We can't wait to see what she creates next and celebrate her future accomplishments.

Congratulations Julie!

George Caleb Bingham, The Jolly Flatboatmen
In Flatboat Blackmon has restaged [George Caleb] Bingham's iconic painting The Jolly Flatboatmen (1846) as a tableau of children and adolescents loafing on a raft. However, in Blackmon's present-day reimagining, the central white male figure of the painting becomes a young Black girl reveling in the joy of a summer's day.

—National Art Gallery

Julie Blackmon, Paddleboard, 2022 – The National Gallery of Art, Washington

George Caleb Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri
Paddleboard pays homage to George Caleb Bingham's Fur Traders Descending the Missouri (1845) by replacing the two men with a heavily pregnant young woman and a small boy, thus centering women's labor. The cargo of the fur traders has been swapped with a tall stack of coolers. The child swimming in the background, with a shark fin strapped to their back, adds a menacing note, suggesting the struggle for survival despite the apparent tranquillity of the scene.

—National Art Gallery

(All three editions of Flatboat and Paddle Board are sold out)

>> National Gallery of Art Acquisitions Page <<

photo-eye Gallery is proud to represent artist Julie Blackmon

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The Prints from this series are Archival Pigment Prints

22x29", Edition of 10, Starting at $4,000
 32x42", Edition of 10, Starting at $6,500
40x50" Edition of 10, Starting at $9,000

>> See more images by Julie Blackmon <<

>> Learn more about Julie Blackmon <<


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If you are in Santa Fe, please stop by during gallery hours or schedule a Virtual Visit HERE.  

For more information, and to reserve one of these unique works, please contact 
Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Jovi Esquivel

You may also call us at (505) 988-5152 x202

photo-eye Gallery

1300 Rufina Circle, Unit A3, Santa Fe, NM 87507

Tuesday– Saturday, from 10am- 5:30pm

Book Review A World History of Women Photographers Text by Luce Lebart and Marie Robert Reviewed by Meggan Gould "I pick up this weighty compendium, A World History of Women Photographers, with a sigh of contextual disappointment: is it possible that we are still having this conversation? That I am about to dive into what must, in fact, be considered a revised version of art history?"

By Luce Lebart and Marie Robert.
A World History of Women Photographers
Text by Luce Lebart and Marie Robert

Thames & Hudson, London, United Kingdom, 2022. 504 pp.

I feel compelled to begin this with a selection from the iconic poster produced by the Guerrilla Girls in 1988 (see link for full text):

The Advantages of Being a Women Artist:
Working without the pressure of success
Not having to be in shows with men
Having an escape from the art world in your 4 free-lance jobs
Knowing your career might pick up after you’re eighty
Having the opportunity to choose between career and motherhood
Being included in revised versions of art history
Not having to undergo the embarrassment of being called a genius

Thirty-five years later… I pick up this weighty compendium, A World History of Women Photographers, with a sigh of contextual disappointment: is it possible that we are still having this conversation? That I am about to dive into what must, in fact, be considered a revised version of art history?

I am a cis-gendered female artist, raised to fiercely believe that I could do anything and be anything, gender notwithstanding. I internalized a message that the battlegrounds of gender equality were behind us, that only slight hiccups might remain on what was clearly a linear path to parity. (Ahem. A pause here, another sigh: “Between 2000 and 2017, work by women artists accounted for less than 4% of total art sold at auction.”)

My initial studies of photography were in France, home to a history of the medium pointedly used by editors Luce Lebart and Marie Robert as a site of a significant (or, particularly egregious) male dominance of the narrative of photo history. In Paris, in my early twenties, I was woefully — blissfully — ignorant of the sexism at play in the field there. Yes, we trooped around the city to galleries that mostly displayed the work of male artists; I was having too much fun to notice. Yes, it was made clear that a career in photojournalism was best suited for a certain masculine swagger; again, I barely noticed — a shrug of disinterest from a 24-year-old me, already more invested in other manifestations of the medium. (Another pause: the gender gap in photojournalism is quite real.)

I do not excuse my obliviousness. I suppose when one wants to believe that the historically stacked deck has been, or is being, corrected, one might blithely ignore reality. (One more quick interruption of a related reality, via the Census bureau: women in the United States earned 30% less than men in 2020.) A revelation: the stacked deck isn’t even subtle! Can you hear the loud POP of a toxic bubble bursting around my naïveté?

A World History of Women Photographers is an exquisite effort to tell an expanded story of photography’s history, and one I wish I knew earlier. A huge tome of 504 pages, with 450 photographs, it focuses on showcasing the work of individual photographers rather than the myriad lurking reasons why we might not already know them. In an introductory text, Marie Roberts briefly chronicles and contextualizes why some of these histories have been diminished (passively) or shoved aside (actively); we read of domesticity’s quotidian demands, gendered marketing strategies and of direct denigration of female artistic production.

The authors err on the side of kindness and gentleness toward the pernicious depths of historical misogyny at play. They note: “With this collection of artists, it is not so much a matter of producing a counter-narrative or of deconstructing histories that already exist but of completing them. We have no desire to burn idols or topple statues, only to erect new ones, and to create a narrative that is richer and more fair.” In this spirit, I tiptoe back from an ugly-statistics-statue-toppling kind of mood, and I allow myself to bask, with enormous pleasure, in the works of the 300 women showcased herein.

The vast majority of the names in this book are new to me, although there are plenty of names that do already have legitimate footholds in the canon (from A to Z and almost spanning the chronology with Anna Atkins and Zanele Muholi). One hundred and sixty international women writers contributed texts to accompany each sumptuously printed image, and we are regaled with biographical snippets and anecdotes amid historical context for each photographer. Organized chronologically by birthdate, the book is a glorious, methodical march through time and space (almost 200 years, across every continent).

I return again and again to flip through this book, allowing myself to be infuriated as I read of underrecognized artist after underrecognized artist. There are too many delightful discoveries to enumerate, so I will only tease with a few. I relish the experimental modernism of Katalin Nádor in Hungary and Gertrudes Altschul in Brazil. I am struck by the social documentary work of Rosa Szücs in Spain and Marie el-Khazen in Lebanon, and by the significant — and mostly unknown to me — role of women in documenting political turmoil throughout the twentieth-century. Most importantly, I find myself awash in a spectacularly undefinable, sprawling vision of photography’s potential. Simply: here we see some of the many, many talented women who have picked up cameras, played in the darkroom, used and shaped a malleable medium. And we should know this work.

Amid it all, I stumble across an actual toppled statue (of Lenin, headless, from Masha Ivashintsova in 1985).

This is a reference book that I will hold near and dear. For years, I have participated in an extraordinary endeavor, #First Day First Image, which hopes to begin to right/re-write a historically skewed canon by being attentive to how educators shape students’ very first encounters with photographic imagery. We must ask, ad nauseam, who is represented, and whose story is being told. Let’s build some new statues.

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Meggan Gould is an artist living and working outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of New Mexico. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,, the SALT Institute for Documentary Studies, and Speos (Paris Photographic Institute), where she finally began her studies in photography. She received an MFA in photography from the University of Massachusetts — Dartmouth. She recently wrote a book, Sorry, No Pictures, about her own relationship to photography.
photo-eye Gallery New Online Exhibition: Displacement + What Remains by Krista Svalbonas Jovi Esquivel photo-eye Gallery is pleased to announce a new Online Exhibition that features work by artist Krista Svalbonas.

Krista Svalbonas, Geislingen, 2022, Layered Laser Cut Pigment Ink Print, 14x21", Edition of 2, $2,800

Krista Svalbonas
Displacement + What Remains
Opening Online: March 9, 2023
Built with Visual Server X

photo-eye Gallery is pleased to announce a new online exhibition Displacement + What Remains by artist Krista Svalbonas. This unique exhibition includes work from two concurrent bodies of work featuring laser-cut pigment ink prints. Included in the collection is a fifteen-minute virtual walk-through with the artist, the latest episode of photo-eye Conversations.

Krista Svalbonas is driven by the ideas of home and dislocation due to her personal experience as a child of immigrant parents — who came to the United States as refugees after spending five years in displaced person camps in Germany following World War II. Her parents' story is just one example of many uprooted peoples whose homes were disrupted by political agendas beyond their control. In an effort to understand and honor her family's struggles, Svalbonas embarked on a journey to retrace and reimagine their history. 

Krista Svalbonas, Lauingen, 2022, Laser Cut Pigment Print, 14x21", Edition of 2, $2,800

Krista Svalbonas, Braunschweig I, 2019, Laser Cut Pigment Print, 14x21", Edition of 2, $2,500 

Through extensive archival research, Svalbonas was able to locate former displaced-person camps in Germany and photographed many of the buildings. These structures were impersonal and appropriated from other civilian and military uses to house thousands of postwar refugees, including Svalbonas' parents. While searching for information on the location of these camps, Svalbonas came across plea letters from refugees seeking asylum. To bring these buildings to life and pay homage to the people that lived in them, Svalbonas merged her photographs with archived copies of plea letters sent by Baltic refugees to the governments of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. In Displacement, Svalbonas used a process of burning with a laser cutter to overlay the painful account of these refugees onto her photographs to create composite images that reflect her experience and the fading memories of her parents' generation.

Detail of Laser Cut Print.

Detail of Laser Cut Print.

While shooting Displacement in Germany, Svalbonas was drawn to the imposing Soviet Architecture, built during the Soviet occupation, in the Baltic region, and began photographing those buildings as well. Drawing inspiration from Displacement, she began incorporating traditional folk art patterns found in Baltic textiles as a visual representation of the people native to the area. The motifs, such as the sun, water and other elements of the natural world, were prominently featured in items like tablecloths and mittens, demonstrating the lasting influence of traditional arts and crafts. Using a laser to cut the textile pattern directly onto her black-and-white photographs of the imposing buildings, in What Remains Svalbonas explores how folk art can serve as a form of defiance against Soviet occupiers.   

The final prints in What Remains, serve as a reminder of the political significance of folk arts, especially during times of occupation and repression. In many cases, practicing traditional crafts was seen as an act of political resistance, as it allowed people to maintain their cultural identity and traditions in the face of outside pressure. By including references to the Soviet occupation in her photographs, Krista is reminding us of the power of art and culture to resist oppression and preserve our heritage. 

This exhibition of photographs is a beautiful and thought-provoking exploration of the intersection between art, culture and history. By combining letters, stories and traditional crafts with laser-cut photographs, she is creating a visual language that speaks to the beauty and significance of a shared heritage. 

Krista Svalbonas, What Remains II, 2021, Layered Laser Cut Pigment Prints, 23½x16½, Edition of 2, $3,250

Krista Svalbonas, What Remains XIII, 2022, Laser Cut Pigment Print, 32x22", Edition of 2, $4,600

If you are in Santa Fe, please stop by during gallery hours
to see What Remains II and What Remains III.

(Two prints from the exhibition Displacement + What Remains)

Krista Svalbonas, What Remains II & What Remains III, in the photo-eye Gallery

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Krista Svalbonas holds a BFA in Photography and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies. Her work has been exhibited at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, and the ISE Cultural Foundation in New York. Her work has been collected by the Cesis Art Museum in Latvia, the Woodmere Art Museum, and Temple University in Philadelphia. Recent awards include a CPA Artist Grant (2022), Baumanis Creative Projects Grant (2020), and a Bemis Fellowship (2015) among others. in 2022, Svalbonas will have a solo exhibition of her Displacement series at the Copenhagen Photography Festival in Denmark and the Museum of Photography in Talin, Estonia.
Svalbonas is an Associate Professor of Photography at St. Joseph's University. She lives and works in Philadelphia.


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If you are in Santa Fe, please stop by during gallery hours or schedule a visit HERE.

For more information, and to reserve one of these unique works, please contact
Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Jovi Esquivel

You may also call us at (505) 988- 5152 x202

photo-eye Gallery

1300 Rufina Circle, Unit A3, Santa Fe, NM 87507
Tuesady– Saturday, from 10am– 5:30pm

Book Review Cloud Physics Photographs by Terri Weifenbach Reviewed by Sara J. Winston “Cloud Physics, a book borne from Terri Weifenbach's 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship, brings us into a world where words no longer suffice..."

Cloud Physics By Terri Weifenbach.
Cloud Physics
Photographs by Terri Weifenbach

The Ice Plant, USA, 2021. In English. 216 pp..

Cloud Physics, a book borne from Terri Weifenbach's 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship, brings us into a world where words no longer suffice. Weifenbach’s quintessential way of seeing — luscious color views of the land, animals, weather events and, for the first time, scientific tools — invites the reader to consider the interconnectedness between things, notably between clouds and the rest of biological existence. She implores us to consider that the natural order can no longer be overlooked:
“It’s difficult to study things that disappear and reappear, that are ephemeral. Weather is still difficult to predict. Through an animated conversation at a party I found there is a place in the center of the US, in Oklahoma, that studies clouds and the particles necessary for cloud making. They study the effect of photons. They study the atmosphere, and this is where my interest is… Photography too, is a measurement of sorts of atmosphere, of the effects of photons. In a photograph, it is seemingly unquantifiable.”

Moving through the pages we see moisture, rain, flowers, lush forests, weather occurrences and animals, all as evidence of patterns that repeat in nature. As I advance through the book, I feel a connection between the formal qualities of disparate observations of both the natural and manmade world. My heart beats to the tempo of the images: the pattern of a doe’s coat (that highlights a similar pattern to moisture particles floating in the air pages before), a scientific schematic graph, a scientific tool set against a Weifenbach-blue sky, and then cloudscapes, water behaving against gravity, insects and data. Amid these enumerations, I am transported and transfixed: in a cognitive loop of looking, noticing, perceiving, feeling.

The quantifiable and invisible facts that cannot be seen in the 117 color photographs of Cloud Physics are all “data captioned” near the end of the book with the location, date, precipitation, maximum temperature, humidity, wind speed and sea level pressure specific to each image. Numeric data visualizations made by the tools the artist photographed in Oklahoma at Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) of Southern Great Plains site are also interspersed throughout the pages, such as the Solar Irradiance measured by the Multi-filter Rotating Shadow Band Radiometer (20 June 2014).

Solar Irradiance measured by the Multi-filter Rotating Shadow Band Radiometer (20 June 2014)

The multifaceted visual facts of the book beckon to both the poetic and scientifically inclined alike. Or, as Luce Lebart phrases it at the conclusion of her essay in the book: “As Constable remarked, it also reminds us that the sky could still be a place in which to walk ‘arm in arm with Milton and Linnaeus’…”

The through line of Weifenbach’s books is her true reverence for the natural world. This first appears in her debut monograph, In Your Dreams (Nazraeli Press, 1997), where her signature lyricism, differential focus, and vibrant hues show us life as we’ve likely never observed it before. In Cloud Physics, this is magnified not only by her exacting eye and brilliant sequencing, but also by the sense of urgency to communicate the interconnectedness of the world no matter where the reader may find themself.

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Sara J. Winston is an artist based in the Hudson Valley region of New York, USA. She works with photographs, text, and the book form to describe and respond to chronic illness and its ongoing impact on the body, mind, family, and memory. Sara is the Photography Program Coordinator at Bard College and on the faculty of the Penumbra Foundation Long Term Photobook Program.
Book Review Mid Century Modern Photographs by Aaron Siskind Reviewed by Blake Andrews “If photography were a person, its therapy bill would be astronomical. Since its inception it has suffered one identity crisis after another. Following initial struggles to separate itself from painting, early photographers couldn’t decide which category fit photography best..."

Mid Century Modern by Aaron Siskind.
Mid Century Modern
Photographs by Aaron Siskind

Museum of Photographic Arts, 2022. In English. 173 pp., 82 B&W Plates, 11¼x11¼".

If photography were a person, its therapy bill would be astronomical. Since its inception it has suffered one identity crisis after another. Following initial struggles to separate from painting, early photographers couldn’t decide which category fit photography best. Were photographs scientific documents? Historical records? Artistic expressions? Agents of social change? Some combination of these applications? Something else entirely? Photographers have spent the last 180+ years puzzling through this stuff, and we’re no closer to an answer now than ever. But that’s ok. Ambiguity comes with the territory.

Photography’s identity crisis was personified in Aaron Siskind. Born in 1903, he became an earnest practitioner of social documentary photography. As the US plodded toward WWII he was settled in New York City, where he’d graduated from City College of NY, joined The Photo League in 1936 and shot his first major project, Harlem Document. His photos from the period dutifully recorded people, neighborhoods, apartments and the fabric of daily life. Roughly speaking, they followed the stylistic tradition of contemporaries Sid Grossman, Berenice Abbott and Arthur Rothstein.

Yet even as Siskind plowed ahead, aesthetic dissatisfaction was seeping in. His new social cohort only fueled the flames. He began to frequent Village bars where he became friendly with painters like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline and Willem De Kooning. Within a few short years they would turn the art world on its head through Abstract Expressionism. But at the time they presented a less turbulent prospect. Siskind and the artists bounced ideas off one another, often late into the night. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Siskind’s photography began moving toward abstraction. The NY photo scene, meanwhile, was less eager for change. Tensions came to a boil with Siskind’s 1941 formalist exhibition Tabernacle City, which went over like a lead balloon among fellow photographers. Siskind soon dropped out of The Photo League and documentary circles, and never looked back.

Siskind’s journey over the next twenty years is fleshed out in the recent book Mid-Century Modern, published in conjunction with a recent exhibition at San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts. It collects 82 monochrome compositions from 1943-1961, sequenced roughly in chronological order. The whole package is couched cooly in a fifties design aesthetic, mirroring the palette and font of old Blue Note albums, with a title to match the zeitgeist: Mid-Century Modern. In one fell swoop it identifies the time period, but more importantly its aesthetic timbre. Siskind’s photographs from the period routinely push abstraction past recognizability, past documentary connection, past any earthly baggage and into a clean orbit of high modernism.

When the photos begin, in early 1940s Gloucester, they’re still rooted in real world objects. A clasping glove and discarded wood parts push toward pure composition, yet they’re easily recognizable as artifacts. From this point Siskind leapt with both feet into abstraction. Wall stains shot in Chicago, beach grass from Martha’s Vineyard and peeling paint in Maine present a Rorschach test to viewers. What exactly are we looking at? Using a 5 x 7 view camera he rendered it all in magnificent tonality and resolution. It didn’t seem to matter what Siskind encountered. Before his lens everything was transformed into monochrome planes, close cousins to Franz Kline’s scrawls or Robert Motherwell’s splotchy fragments.

The core of the book follows Siskind to a variety of locations: Hoboken, Los Angeles, Kentucky, Mexico and of course his familiar haunts of Martha’s Vineyard and New York. They are captioned by place and date, but without that information readers would be hard-pressed to identify where or when any were taken, or even what the source material is. After browsing these pages such concerns melt away. Siskind’s images verge toward the transcendental. The subject matter had been lost and in its place, Siskind was finding himself. Identity crisis be damned.

Not that he was a completely free spirit. Siskind developed firm philosophical underpinnings for his pictures. These were enumerated in a brief essay he called the Credo. It’s excerpted in drop quotes through the book, and the full text appears in the afterword. “When I make a photograph I want it to be an altogether new object,” Siskind writes, “complete and self contained, whose basic condition is order… unlike the world of events and actions whose permanent condition is change and disorder… First, and emphatically, I accept the flat plane of the picture as the primary frame of reference of the picture…” The Credo goes on for a few paragraphs but this passage captures the gist of it.

Whatever identity crisis Siskind suffered in the 30s, his direction resolved by the late 1950s. The war period evolved into boom years. He settled into middle age, joining Harry Callahan at the Institute of Chicago, and later RISD. Together they, along with Frederick Sommer, Minor White and others, led photography into a period of modernist refinement. But that’s a story for another book. This one ends just as the movement is picking up steam. The last photograph in the book is from 1961. Captioned San Luis Petosi 24, it depicts a messy clutch of calligraphic shapes. Perhaps it is paint on stucco? Or tire tracks in the snow? It’s impossible to tell really, and that’s fine. The photo has teeth. It leaves a mark. So did Siskind.

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at