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photo-eye Gallery Yosemite: Seeking Sublime | Virtual Tour with Edward Bateman photo-eye Gallery
photo-eye Gallery would like to invite you on a virtual walk-through of our current exhibition Yosemite: Seeking Sublime, an online solo exhibition by Utah-based photographer Edward Bateman.

Half Dome Singularity No. 1, archival pigment print with 3D printed landscape, 2020, 8 x 10 inches, edition 10, $800

 
photo-eye Gallery would like to invite you on a virtual walk-through of our current exhibition Yosemite: Seeking Sublime, an online solo exhibition by Utah-based photographer Edward Bateman. 

Awe-inspiring, enigmatic, and alluring, Bateman's distinctive prints, created by photographing 3D models, are thoroughly contemporary in their concept and methodology. Produced during the ongoing pandemic, and with limited possibility of travel, Bateman crafted the work from his kitchen's table, using geographical data and a 3D printer. The artist's unique process yields captivating, abstract images depicting plastic filaments that explore the concept of the sublime through representations of the majestic landscapes of Yosemite National Park. 

Last weekend, as part of our video series photo-eye Conversations, Gallery Director Anne Kelly joined Edward Bateman in an online view of this fantastic exhibition. They discussed Edward's process in re-creating Yosemite among other things at one point in the conversation, the artist found himself enveloped in a thick cloud of fog! Watch this amazing conversation below or on Vimeo.

 

Each print purchased includes a unique 3D model!


Edward Bateman's 3D printer
• • • • •
 
All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.
 
For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202
 
 
 
Book Review 12 Hz Photographs by Ron Jude Reviewed by Blake Andrews 12 Hz—the lowest sound threshold of human hearing—suggests imperceptible forces, from plate tectonics to the ocean tides, from cycles of growth and decay in the forest, to the incomprehensibility of geological spans of time.

12 Hz. By Ron Jude.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZJ420
12 Hz
Photographs by Ron Jude

Mack Books, London, UK, 2020. In English. 128 pp., 9½x12¾".

For those who have followed Ron Jude’s career closely, his recent monograph 12 Hz (Mack, 2020) will come as a departure. For starters, it’s his first book of exclusively monochrome photos. At over a foot tall, it is printed at a scale that dwarfs any previous effort. Perhaps most importantly, 12 Hz —named for the lowest range of sound audible to humans— focuses on nature, avoiding people entirely. This comes after 9 previous books documenting the various artifacts of human culture. Even his early monograph Other Nature, the Jude book closest in spirit to 12 Hz, contains some traces of the built environment. Not so with 12 Hz. In this work he has broken clear of humanity entirely, settling instead in a primeval world of lava, caves, and water forms.

The shift in approach might be the result of recent changes in Jude’s life. In 2015 he uprooted from a long career in New York to resettle in Oregon. The next year his father passed away, followed by the disruptive election of Donald Trump. By the time he’d finished the work in progress, the 2017 monograph Nausea, Jude was at something of a crossroads. If he’d been a corporate executive, this period might be thought of as his mid-life crisis. But rather than buy a Corvette convertible, Jude embarked on his next photo project, this time with the conscious intention to avoid book form. He wanted to make pictures with a physical presence, large prints you could interact with in real life, not just reproductions on a page.

12 Hz. By Ron Jude.

The impulse toward grandeur led him initially into the local mountains and forests of his newly adopted home state, where he became entranced by Oregon’s bizarre volcanic forms. With its myriad lava tubes, basalt plugs, cinder cones, and active glaciers, the geography harkened back to the primordial epoch when the earth’s surface was just taking shape —an era long before humans, and well out of audible range. Eventually, his search took him to similar geologic features in Iceland, Hawaii, and New Mexico, where he found the same stark visual currents running through all.

The resulting photographs have the austere resilience of deep time cycles. Humans are nowhere to be found, and if present they would experience these landforms as completely inhospitable. There is nary a flat spot in sight, no place to rest a body or reader’s eye. One photo shows magma cooled into strange mounds. Another shows an icy moraine, with dirt and rock blending into a sort of dark natural graffiti. Seafoam dances above a chasm in another. Stalactites hang from cave interiors, mirroring gigantic mesas of volcanic tuft.

Paging through Jude’s photos is like watching a “How the earth formed” movie in science class. But this is a moodier, more mysterious version. It is halfway through the book before any sign of life appears, just a few twigs on the margins of a booming waterfall. Another photo seems to show moss, but it might just be mushrooming basalt. Once vegetation is finally untracked, in the book’s last section, it explodes into dense jungle plumage, an Edenic wilderness that serves as a literary counterpart to the earlier rock forms.

Jude’s printing style is muted, with dark gradations clustered toward the lower end of the tonal scale. Some are so dim that they seem to bring the viewer down into the earth, as if peering through the dim light of a cavern. The eyes need a moment to adjust before they are able to make out the image before them. The overall effect is rather somber, a reminder that humans weren’t invited to the party, and in fact, nature can get along just fine without us. There’s also a ruefulness in the knowledge that, no matter how large these pictures appear in a book, they fall short of their ideal exhibition scale.

12 Hz. By Ron Jude.

Jude has commented that he is not interested in mythologizing the landscape. Despite his intentions, this book seems to do just that. It may not feature the poster-friendly mountainscapes of Ansel Adams. But the geology of Jude’s photos is just as grand and sweeping and, dare I say, majestic? Jude’s Earth is a planet to be glorified and feared, and upheld, with an almost spiritual dimension, an effect enhanced by Mack’s production style. With cloth binding, tipped-in cover image, lush sweeping reproductions, and quietly dignified elegance, 12 Hz feels closer to Awoiska van der Molen than Vitreous China. Jude has left behind the wry social commentary of previous works, choosing instead a more rarified and refined direction. It’s a nice twist in the oeuvre from a photographer who consistently pushes himself into new territory. I’m tempted to say it might signal a broader new direction for Jude. But I suspect the next project, whatever it is, will also be a departure.

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12 Hz. By Ron Jude.
12 Hz. By Ron Jude.


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

photo-eye Gallery From the Flat-Files: Photomontage photo-eye Gallery
We can discuss photomontage in both its analog and digital versions, its numerous technical possibilities within both these realms, and the issues it faces in contemporary art. This week we feature some of our favorites photomontages from our flat-files.

Jennifer Greenburg, I was a vendor of drink but not love, archival pigment ink, 24 x 30 inches, edition of 3, $3500

 
Popularized by the Dadaists and Constructivism, photomontage has provided artists with the ability to go beyond photography's primal pursuit to represent reality. In an unparalleled way, the technique has offered original, or at least re-interpreted, worlds in photographic form — artworks that seamlessly combine many photographs into one, new vision and idea.

Today, we can discuss photomontage in both its analog and digital versions, its numerous technical possibilities within both these realms, and the issues it faces in contemporary art. 

This week we feature some of our favorite photomontages from our flat-files.


Jennifer Greenburgh

Using digital photomontage, Jennifer Greenburg inserts herself into scenes of mid-century America. Her series Revising History, seamlessly incorporates images of Greenburg within the compositions of anonymous vintage photographs. The resulting black and white images look like those found in a family album.

In images like I was a vendor of drink but not love, Greenburg chose an image that depicts a character she can identify with. She researched who the subject was and tried to figure out what her experience was the moment the image was captured. The intention behind the work is to raise a conversation with her audience about how we interpret media and personal memories to establish a collective history.

To learn more about what goes on behind Jennifer Greenbug's images, read our interview with her here

Maggie Taylor

 

The Harbinger, by Maggie Taylor, combines old photos and illustrations, mainly representing a crow cawing on top of an uncanny flying device and a polar bear placidly swimming across an iceless sea. The resulting artwork is a surrealistic dreamscape that commands careful attention from the viewer to fully grasp.

Taylor's photomontages, a combinatinon of the historical and contemporary, consist of 19th century daguerreotypes, old illustrations, found photographs, and diverse objects and artifacts —all layered together through meticulous digital image editing. You may learn more about her practice here

Chaco Terada

 
Chaco Terada's creative process is meditative and organic, her workflow is purely intuitive, her images are inspired by her daily musings and interactions with her surroundings. A master calligrapher and visual poet, Terada uses multiple layers of silk, images, sumi and pigment inks to create her works.

There is something very "natural" about Terada's photomontages. In Dialogue, somehow the mechanicity often attributed to photomontage — the layering of dissasociated elements — is completely blurred in the misty quality of the work. The delicate brush marks in the foreground and the serene mountaintop in the background, dissolve together in a seamless and harmonious visual dialogue. To learn more about Chaco Terada's work, check out the interview she did with photo-eye.

Tom Chambers

 

For Tom Chambers, photomontage is a vehicle to combine the diverse ideas stemming from his imagination — a way to make them tangible.
 
To construct his photographs, Chambers usually sketches the concept he has for an image. Sometimes, he will also find an element and photograph it as a starting point. The rest of the magic happens in the digital post-production process. 
 
His photomontage I can touch merges reality and dream, while speaking to the beauty of childhood and the wonder of sea life. It is magical realism at its best. You may learn more about his work here
 
 


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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202
 
 
 

Book Review Quest Photographs by Alexandre de Mortemart Reviewed by George Slade The black-and-white photographs in Alexandre de Mortemart’s series Quest portray people in their daily routines among images of various textured surfaces — up-close shots of graffiti, peeling wall paint, the surface of water...
Quest. By Alexandre de Mortemart.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DT686
Quest
Photographs by Alexandre de Mortemart

Damiani, 2020. 160 pp., 120 illustrations, 8¾x12".

Don’t get too comfortable, Alexandre de Mortemart’s photographs suggest. The worlds you see herein have an elusive relationship with the truth. Don’t trust your eyes.

For a book that delves so deeply into aspects of the built environment in global metropolises (Calcutta, London, New York, and Paris), I find it fascinating that Quest opens and closes with images of a rock in Brittany, taken two years apart. Rock surfaces, to be explicit, purely nature-made, in which no sky appears and scale is purely speculative. Am I seeing a square foot, a square yard, or a microscopic fragment of sand? It’s wondrous, what bright light and contrasty black-and-white rendering will do to one’s sense of balance and surety. Quest amplifies this phenomenon in its austere, evocatively sequenced pages.

As one navigates the book’s dense urban landscape, an occasional moment of breath — relief from man-made claustrophobia — occurs. But you might be forgiven for thinking that a wall of rock, the sun glowing across ripples in the ocean, paint splattered on a dark background, or a grisaille of reflected and prismed sunlight all seem the same. You must look closely to determine whether you’re seeing a real leafless tree, or a mosaic version of one. (The book includes a spread offering just that enigmatic puzzle.) Be careful, once again, not to swing your arms too wide, lest they slam against a concrete wall you mistook for a tarp.

Quest. By Alexandre de Mortemart.

Not only are surfaces doing their best to destabilize you, but the lone human figures that emerge from shadows also offer minimal reassurance. De Mortemart’s cities teem with simulations of life. Draped wraiths and solitary inconnus play off commercially rendered faces. One fully fleshed human, clothed in a prisoner’s striped pajamas, stares back at us. What he sees may not be what we think. He appears to be somewhere out on a psychological frontier, and he is perhaps the sole exception to de Mortemart’s rules of disengagement.

There are echoes of Ralph Gibson, Aaron Siskind, and Ray Metzker in these images. The dimensional, material world becomes a planar abstraction, and vastness is reduced to an arm’s length. We lose our way and discover that such diverse cities have a lot in common. Particularly, the capacity to dazzle-camouflage themselves and undermine our bearings. For de Mortemart, the effect is more than visual; he lives in these cities and experiences the anomie day-to-day. Those distressed, distressing figures prompt distancing. Yet, there’s something vaguely affirming about his quest. As the Parisian gallerist Agathe Gaillard claims in a brief foreword, “it is a tribute, or so [de Mortemarte] would hope. It is unusual, remarkably beautiful, elegant, harmonious and also outrageous, unbearable but always a reflection of ourselves. Our human brothers, one says.”

Perhaps disengagement is a form of salvation. Whether intentionally or not, what the photographer describes is socially distanced space. Difficult as it is to obtain these days, there is always redemption in personal connection. Keep at it. If you can just open up the shadows a bit there may be some solace.

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Quest. By Alexandre de Mortemart.

Quest. By Alexandre de Mortemart.


George Slade, aka re:photographica, is a writer and photography historian based in Minnesota's Twin Cities. He is also the founder and director of the non-profit organization TC Photo. rephotographica.com/

Image c/o Randall Slavin

Book Review The Awful German Language Photographs by Jeffrey Ladd Reviewed by Blake Andrews In 2011 the American photographer and Errata Books publisher Jeffrey Ladd (born 1968) moved to Cologne, Germany, and began photographing his surroundings while learning the basics of the German language...

The Awful German Language. By Jeffrey Ladd.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DT736
The Awful German Language
Photographs by Jeffrey Ladd

Spector Books, Leipzig, Germany, 2020. In English. 246 pp., 110 illustrations, 6x8¼"

J. Ladd’s new monograph The Awful German Language (Spector, 2020) is not physically imposing. At roughly 6 x 8 inches, the smallish yellow book might tuck easily into a handbag or purse. But what it lacks in girth it more than makes up for in density. Weighing in at over 250 pages, the book is as thick as a thumb, with nary a blank space inside. After some cursory intro material and a brief Don DeLillo quote, every page to follow is full to the brim with one of two items, either a photo by Ladd or a random snippet of German glossary. If the reader finds the book overwhelming —which, frankly, I did— that’s just as intended. The effect is meant to mimic the bewildered excitement of a traveler in a foreign land, where new encounters are unrelenting, unfamiliar, and difficult to process.

If the learning curve proves steep, its slope roughly mirrors Jeffrey Ladd’s experience upon moving to Germany in 2011. He’d spent his entire life in the U.S. up to that point. But after marrying a German, they decided to resettle in Cologne to start a family. Having never lived in Germany and knowing little of the language, Ladd embarked on a crash course teaching himself “the awful German language” (a humorous phrase borrowed from a Mark Twain essay). He studied phrasebooks, vocabulary lists, and signs, slowly gaining a foothold of understanding. The words filling the book are presumably some of those he learned in the process. For anyone looking to learn German, they might serve as a disordered phrasebook. But there are easier ways.

The Awful German Language. By Jeffrey Ladd.

At the same time he was learning German, Ladd was out making photographs of his new surroundings. Judging by the book’s assorted selections, many things pulled at his attention. Beyond the common factor that all were shot near Cologne, the diversity is extraordinary. The book features interiors, strangers, family shots, vacant lots, domestic scenes, social landscape, farm animals, architecture, posters, roads, and just about any other vernacular tidbit imaginable. Leafing through the pictures, one gets the impression of a photographer unleashed in new territory, hungry to explore, and not yet locked into any particular direction or project. It’s a delightfully liberated romp, and a slight change of pace from Ladd’s earlier work, which was more heavily focused on people. Regardless of location or subject, Ladd is a skilled observer with a deft feel for offbeat monochrome layering.

Ladd’s pictures would be easier to digest if they were shown in their natural orientation (most were shot in landscape format) and given some room to breathe. But nothing is simple with this book, so they are instead twisted vertically, then stuffed into the pages, leaving almost no border space. But that’s only the start of the difficulty. Remember that half the book is taken up by lists of German words, each line of which is annotated by an alphanumeric code that corresponds to its English translation in the rear index. So this part must either be waded through on the way to enjoying the photographs. The sluggish pace provides ample time for Ladd’s pictures to settle.

Ladd is an accomplished photographer with over three decades of experience, but he is perhaps better known as a photobook booster and critic. He was the founding editor of legendary photobook blog 5B4, a co-founder of Errata Editions, and has authored or edited countless reviews and articles for various outlets. Considering his deep interest in the genre, it’s hard to believe this is the first published monograph of his own work. Oh well, better late than never. Perhaps Ladd was storing up all his book energy for the big debut? It feels that way. He’s made a content-heavy tome with enough meat to chew on for a while, especially for those looking to pick up a bit of German in the process.

The production quality of this book is excellent. In order to accommodate their large quantity, the page weight is spindly, like a reference manual. . But this measure does not sacrifice print quality. The photo reproductions are excellent, with rich blacks, fine resolution, and subtle tonality. Packaged between pleasingly gridded endpapers and a tough cloth exterior, the pages leaf easily in a nice tight binding. Short bursts of German glossary on the front and back covers hint at the secrets tucked inside. That the title refers to German as “awful” can be passed off as an ironic joke, but it also signifies that some work is expected of the reader.

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The Awful German Language. By Jeffrey Ladd.
The Awful German Language. By Jeffrey Ladd.

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


photo-eye Gallery OPENING SOON | Yosemite: Seeking Sublime by Edward Bateman photo-eye Gallery
photo-eye Gallery is excited to announce Yosemite: Seeking Sublime, an online solo exhibition by Utah-based photographer Edward Bateman.

 
photo-eye Gallery is excited to announce Yosemite: Seeking Sublime, an online solo exhibition by Utah-based photographer Edward Bateman. 

Awe-inspiring, enigmatic, and alluring, Bateman's distinctive prints, created by photographing 3D models, are thoroughly contemporary in their concept and methodology. Produced during the ongoing pandemic and with limited possibility of travel, Bateman crafted the work using geographical data and a 3D printer. The artist's unique process yields captivating, abstract images depicting plastic filaments that explore the concept of the sublime through representations of the majestic landscapes of Yosemite National Park.

This thought-provoking exhibition opens Saturday, November 14. It uses photo-eye’s revolutionary new VisualServer X website builder and is the second in a series of photo-eye's major online shows.


Half Dome Singularity No. 1, 2020, archival pigment print with 3D printed landscape, 8 x 10 inches, edition of 10, $800

Mountains and nature have long been places of peace and refuge. During this pandemic, due to lockdown and quarantine, they have been denied to us. There are few emotions about places for which adequate single words exist. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the word sublime arose to describe the feelings that the natural world can evoke.

On my kitchen table, I have been photographing the grandeur of Yosemite National Park, long immortalized by photographers from Carleton Watkins to Ansel Adams. Using geographical data from the internet, I used my 3D printer to try to capture something of the sublime in bits of plastic. With clouds from a small fog machine, I create atmospheric perspective.

This will have to do until we are once again allowed to travel freely. Until that time, I will continue to explore this imaginary landscape. —Edward Bateman
 

Edward Bateman with Covid Beard


About the Artist
Edward Bateman is an artist and professor at the University of Utah. His practice often pushes the boundaries of photography with his use of uncommon processes and technologies such as 3D digital modeling. Through constructed and often anachronistic imagery, he creates alleged historical artifacts that examine our belief in the photograph as a reliable witness. 

In 2009, Nazraeli Press released a signed and numbered book of his work titled Mechanical Brides of the Uncanny, that explores 19th-century automatons as a metaphor for the camera, stating: "For the first time in human existence, objects of our own creation were looking back at us.” 

Bateman and his work have been included in the third edition of Seizing the Light: A Social and Aesthetic History of Photography by Robert Hirsch. His work has been shown internationally in over twenty-eight countries and is included in the collections of The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and Getty Research among others.


• • • • •
 

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Patricia Martin, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202




Book Review to Hans Photographs by Vivian Keulards Reviewed by George Slade Addiction is still a big taboo. With this photo book and project, Vivian Keulards breaks her silence around the addiction and death of her brother Hans...
to Hans. By Vivian Keulards.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=IG046
to Hans
Photographs by Vivian Keulards

Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam, 2020. In English. 112 pp., 9¾x9½x½".

Keulards and her family have held a painful secret related to addiction and death. Her book contemplates that dark truth. While it represents a healing process of sorts, healing is seldom a completed act. There are many questions a grieving family, let alone a photobook, can never answer. Nonetheless, to Hans pokes pinspots into shadows. That quintessential phenomenon of the camera obscura, the puncturing and displacement of darkness, is effectively employed here. Keulards illuminates this mystery while respectfully perpetuating it.

A photobook like this addresses the conundrum in visual and physical terms. The tragedy of her brother Hans’ death resists head-on interpretation. Keulards builds a circumambulatory strategy, utilizing both descriptive and allusive images to arrive at a truth larger than the apparent sum of its parts. Her photographs are symbolic bits of evidence and intuition, gathered in hopes of fuller comprehension.

to Hans. By Vivian Keulards.

There’s the hotel room in which he died, and the view from the window in that room. She speculates on what he saw and how it affected his last moments of life. There are several archival photographs of the siblings (Hans several years older than Vivian) and the family in what might be called happier times. These are now shadowed by the knowledge of future despair. Who can resist parsing those pictures for the omens?

A passport-like head shot of a 15-year-old Hans appears in details, and in one fully realized version midway through the book. What does his sister see in those eyes? There are what appear to be contemporary photographs of a young person with closed eyes, floating in a tub or leaning toward the camera. These, along with other initially inscrutable vectors, may be more tangential inclusions. (Red herrings? False leads? Probably not, in this somber, intentional context.)

Diane Arbus suggested, “a photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.” But you do learn more about the secret.

Keulards offers some rationale in captions at the end of the book and on her web site. If you, like me, are comfortable with ambiguity and happy to carry secrets for a while, don’t jump ahead. Linger in the images and the pages before turning to the explanations (not answers, just supporting facts and the photographer’s firsthand notes). Also, take time to absorb writer Ralf Mohren’s parallel narrative (“Looking into the sun” at the end of the folded pages).

Keulards, her designer, and her publisher have also fabricated an object that reinforces secrets and the difficulty of unravelling them. Pages sealed along the outer edge create an initial problem for the reader. What’s inside? You must peer into a paper tunnel to see. At first, assume there’s something. You can see ink bleeding through the paper. The actual content of those hidden images are fragmentary reiterations of the more visible facing-out photographs. This evidence contains multiple meanings and implications.

Why ask why? The truth, such as it is, remains elusive. To quote an Iris DeMent lyric that floated into my head while contemplating to Hans, “I choose to let the mystery be.”

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to Hans. By Vivian Keulards.
to Hans. By Vivian Keulards.

George Slade, aka re:photographica, is a writer and photography historian based in Minnesota's Twin Cities. He is also the founder and director of the non-profit organization TC Photo. rephotographica.com/

Image c/o Randall Slavin
Book Review Let the Sun Beheaded Be Photographs by Gregory Halpern Reviewed by Odette England In Let the Sun Beheaded Be, photographer Gregory Halpern focuses on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, a French overseas region with a complicated colonial history...

Let the Sun Beheaded Be. By Gregory Halpern.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=AP673
Let the Sun Beheaded Be
Photographs by Gregory Halpern

Aperture, New York, 2020. In English. 112 pp., 8¼x12".

Language is systematized around the idea of difference. We use it to define what something is and what something is not. Dualities and binaries are implicit: this from that, us from them, you from me. We learn at an early age how to identify and describe differences between individuals and groups. What we don’t always learn are the implications of how we use and abuse words and pictures to state difference.

My daughter and I learn French. She brings home from school a list of opposing words to recite, divided into two columns. One of the pairings is ‘ami’ [friend] and étranger [stranger]. It is the same day that Gregory Halpern’s latest book, Let the Sun Beheaded Be, arrives at my door. The timing is étrange. Or should I say inquiétante? Mystérieuse?

For context: Halpern made the color photographs in Let the Sun Beheaded Be during several visits in the French archipelago of Guadeloupe. The title refers to a 1948 book Soleil cou coupé by Aimé Césaire, a collection of 72 French surrealist poems which speak to black diaspora and the Caribbean’s violent colonial past. Halpern, a white American photographer, is the stranger. “An interloper” he notes during a conversation with the photographer and writer Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa published in the book. Wolukau-Wanambwa observes, “…you’re making photographs in a place that’s distant to you and relatively unknown to you”. This distance weighed on Halpern while making the work: “…a story I couldn’t tell was a story from the perspective of an insider. I worried whether that story would be more compelling than mine could ever be”.

Let the Sun Beheaded Be. By Gregory Halpern.

Immersing myself in Let the Sun Beheaded Be, I keep thinking about étranger, which comes from the Latin extraneus, meaning outside of but also foreign or strange. I identify a link with Albert Camus’ 1942 novel L’Étranger and consider the many complications and debates surrounding its translation from the French to English. There are four English translations, published between 1946 and 2012 – two are titled The Stranger and two The Other. Those words – ‘stranger’ and ‘other’ – have different meanings in different contexts. For social science purposes, there are even different classes of ‘strangers’ and ‘others’. It is the opening sentence of Camus’ novel that has generated the most controversy about what is lost in translation: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.” It could be, “Today, mother has died”, “Today, mother died”, “Mother died today” or a variant thereof.

The first line of any book sets its tone. It establishes the voice, it greets and acquaints you. It engrosses. The same is true of the first image of a photobook. For his book, Halpern chooses an interior scene. It looks like a domestic room. Taken using natural light, at a downward angle, it shows a tiled floor upon which are several packs of playing cards arranged in a grid. Twenty cards across, 16 cards down. There are 16 gaps where cards are missing, like an unfinished crossword puzzle. In the top right-hand corner of the room is a chair covered in fabric, showing a beach scene above which is a yellow banner with ‘Guadeloupe’ printed on it. Next to the chair are various objects, including dried leaf stalks in an empty plastic bottle and a rumpled La Poste bag. I spend a lot of time thinking about the cards and the French suits of centuries ago, in ranked order: spades and hearts, diamonds and clubs. As symbols that represent the struggle of opposing forces they become significant sub-characters in the book. Spades stand for labor, hearts for love, diamonds for light, clubs for violence, kings and queens Guadeloupe’s residents.

Halpern pays attention to subject matter in opposition. Inside and outside, beauty and decay, humans and beasts, shadows and light. Though untitled, his photographs overflow with potential for extrapolation. They are spacious. Halpern’s eye implies an unknowing from something known. I become alert to his unique ways of looking. He is not gazing or staring. His is not a quick glance. It is more than seeing, which is passive. There are more than 100 ways to say “look’ in English, yet none describes for me the physical and emotional sensitivities that Halpern adopts with his camera.


Let the Sun Beheaded Be. By Gregory Halpern.

There are clear themes and repeating motifs. Textures are abundant: stone, rocks, skin, shells, sand, asphalt, hair, and intestines. Many images show tools and objects for preparation (tables, knives, carts, ink, hands, gloves) and items being prepared (fish, goats, plaques, holes). There are images of memorials, formal and informal, woven throughout. Combined with the many portraits, they invite me to ponder body as site and as witness: the objectified icon immortalized for life versus the living body of flesh and bone.

There are smart photographs that reward the careful viewer, like the one of old concrete bleachers with rows marked A-C-D in the top right and a spray-painted B, dislocated from its home in the alphabet. The fragile nature of relationships is palpable. A close-up image of a lone figure facing the ocean feels as much about them as the little tear in the netted yellow tank top they wear. In another picture, an abandoned building is overtaken by the prodigious roots of a tree. Which is friend, which is stranger? Which is prop, and which is destabilizer? Does the building need the tree to ensure its survival or vice versa? It is a fitting allegory for infiltration and consumption, human versus nature, and the nature of taking sans autorisation.


Let the Sun Beheaded Be. By Gregory Halpern.

One photograph I return to over and again depicts a biracial couple embracing on a towel on the sand, sheltered by large rocks. Their faces are invisible to Halpern, standing a few feet away. It’s the crisscross of their arms and legs wound in tenderness that takes me to Nicholas Muellner’s writing in his chapter ‘Color Correction’ in Lacuna Park (SPBH Editions, 2019): “I hold you in a picture because you can never really hold someone else, though you can touch them. Love is a reaction to radical distance. It is a reaching across, a drawing in from the horizon, more than an act of capture”. It is relevant to Halpern’s position here as a stranger or outsider, photographing intimacy at arm’s length while being aware of distance and difference. It also connects to Halpern’s description of some of the conversations he had with the people of Guadeloupe as he made the work: “It’s always hard photographing people, though, even when you speak the same language. I tend to approach people in a sort of formal way – respectful, positive, honest, and direct about what I’m doing”.

It is only in reaching the final picture that I realize Let the Sun Beaded Be starts with an ending, and ends with a beginning. The last image – like the last line of a good novel – should anchor in a reader’s mind long after they close its cover. And here it does. We return to the tiled floor with the playing cards. This time, we see the hand of the person positioning the cards. The angle is lower, the lens closer, the cards fewer. It occurs to me that we all live to the rising and setting sun, depicted on the front and back cover of Halpern’s book. This returns me to Camus, for the sun and its unforgiving heat is a character all its own in L’Étranger. Throughout, Camus references the sun: sweat, glare, dazzling, burning, skin, oppressive, bearing down, shimmer, intense. “It was the same sun as on the day I buried Maman and, like then, my forehead especially was hurting me, all of the veins pulsating together beneath the skin.” Similarly, Halpern uses the extremities of light to picture Guadeloupe’s residents, their highs and lows, their bright spots and blind spots.

Time affects language. Our use of it evolves. Between the first and fourth translation of L’Entranger from the French to English is 66 years. In that time, the ways in which we describe and define our world has changed in small but meaningful ways. The same is just as true for the sun as it is for ourselves. Each day, the rising and setting points change slightly; each day who we are shifts and grows. As Halpern knows, the sun only rises due east and sets due west on two days of the year, the spring and fall equinoxes.

Halpern’s photographs paraphrase and interpret a place and its people at a moment. Just as language changes, so too will the ways in which we describe and define these images. As more voices gather around the many tales in Let the Sun Beheaded Be, so too will interpretations follow. His images show respect and empathy to those he asked to photograph, something noted by Clément Chéroux, Chief Curator of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in his excellent wide-ranging essay in the book.

My only wish list item for Let the Sun Beaded Be is the inclusion of text from a Guadeloupean, be they a novelist, historian, or one of the people Halpern met during his visits, to add to his perspective-taking and perspective-seeking.

All languages including photography have their idiosyncrasies. Each develops in the company of its culture and location. This is why some words, some phrases – and some of Halpern’s photographs – are lost in translation. It is a good thing; it gives them that little something, a quality that eludes description, or in the French “Je ne sais quoi”.

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Let the Sun Beheaded Be. By Gregory Halpern.
Let the Sun Beheaded Be. By Gregory Halpern.

Odette England is an artist and writer; an Assistant Professor and Artist-in-Residence at Amherst College in Massachusetts; and a resident artist of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program in New York. Her work has shown in more than 90 solo, two-person, and group exhibitions worldwide. England’s first edited volume Keeper of the Hearth was published by Schilt Publishing (2020), with a foreword by Charlotte Cotton. Radius Books will publish her second book Past Paper // Present Marks in collaboration with the artist Jennifer Garza-Cuen in spring 2021 including essays by Susan Bright, David Campany, and Nicholas Muellner.