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photo-eye Book Reviews: Oceanscapes

Oceanscapes, Photographs by Renate Aller.
Published by Radius Books, 2010.
Reviewed by Douglas Stockdale
Renate Aller Oceanscapes
Photographs by Renate Aller.
Radius Books, 2010. Hardbound. 96 pp., 47 color illustrations, 10x13".

Years ago, Renate Aller began to photograph and investigate the ocean landscape near her adopted American home, perhaps wistfully looking out towards her native land across the Atlantic Ocean. In the ensuring ten years, her studies developed into this titled work, Oceanscapes. Her spirit is similar to Edward Steichen when he photographed the small section of his Connecticut backyard, intrinsically drawn to the same place, photographing as a cathartic exercise.

Her photographs are minimalistic and embody three simple elements, the ocean, the sky and a horizontal line between them. As to where she actually photographed her subject remains ambiguous. She states that the photographs were made from the same vantage point, but there are no artifacts in her landscape that might verify this fact, such that these photographs appear that they might be made anywhere along the Eastern coast where there is an unobstructed view of the ocean.

Oceanscapes, by Renate Aller. Published by Radius Books, 2010

Over ten years she captured a wide range of the atmospheric conditions that embody a full spectrum of moods played out in a diverse palette of hues and tonalities. She diligently maintains a practiced eye for the atmospheric conditions that occur both over the span of a day as well as seasonally. Her sensitivity to the character of the atmospheric light, acted out and reflected back by the conditions of the ocean, has allowed her to capture the sky and ocean in an elegant dance around the horizontal boundary. The sky and ocean have provided her with a seemingly endless palette for a minimal subject.

Oceanscapes, by Renate Aller. Published by Radius Books, 2010.
 The ocean is real and tangible, endlessly stretching to meet the boundless horizon, while the sky has a faint tactical essence and extends infinitely, but the horizontal line is an artifact, an optical allusion. The ocean and the sky are two relatively limitless entities. Contemplated for centuries, water is a source of physical nourishment, while the sky extends to the heavens, a source of spiritual nourishment. The horizon is where these two meet, a place where the physical encounters the spiritual.

Oceanscapes, by Renate Aller. Published by Radius Books, 2010.
Aller's photographs are meant to extend beyond literal interpretations, as were Alfred Stieglitz's famous "equivalent" photographs of clouds over his summer home on Lake George. To attempt to focus on either the season or time of day that the photograph was created is to miss the subtle narrative about time and memory. Aller avoided the cliché of long photographic exposures to investigate the concept of time, and utilizing the sequencing of the photographs in her book, creates this narrative. Contemplating these photographs, I find that the solitude and emptiness elicits a darker sense of melancholy, an undercurrent in contradiction to the more apparent light and open space that is portrayed.

Aller's Oceanscapes are sharply delineated with saturated colors, which are beautiful rendered by the fine printing of this book.—Douglas Stockdale

 Douglas Stockdale is a photographer, author and writer when not working his day job. His photographic projects and stories explore questions from our dreams, experiences and memories. His first self-published book is In Passing and he recently completed his latest photo-project Insomnia: Hotel Noir. He is a photobook critic with his own photo-blog, The PhotoBook, available at Douglas’s web site is and can be contacted at