October 31, 2009

Exhibits: Bergman & Karsh

Exhibitions of portraiture appear to be all the rage in DC right now. From the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition at the National Portrait Gallery to Thirteen (Dreizehn) at the Goethe Institut, there is a veritable plethora of photographic portrait happenings. I’ve been fortunate enough to see two of the more notable ones: Robert Bergman: Portraits, 1986–1995 at the National Gallery of Art, and Karsh at 100: Portraits of Artists at the Embassy of Canada.

Staged within a few short blocks from one another, these two exhibits are a fascinating study in contrasts. The most obvious is that Bergman’s portraits are shot in color, while Yousuf Karsh’s are in black & white. Bergman’s muses are ordinary everyday people (by which I mean crazy guy on the subway ordinary everyday). Karsh, on the other hand, has aimed his lens towards the higher plane of famous artists who have helped shape our culture over the previous century.

The technical differences in the way both artists realize their visions are equally pronounced. Karsh is one of the masters of photography, and to see the rich tones that gleam from the luxurious silver gelatin prints, you immediately understand why. I have been having an ongoing discussion recently with several photographer friends about how to make sense of contemporary photography. Much of it appears to be a rejection of any suggestion of formal composition, lighting, subject, etc. Now, whether this is a positive step in the evolution of the art is a topic for another discussion. But what I think is indisputable is that when you look at an image made by one of the past masters, Cartier-Bresson for instance, its inherent excellence is evident. These artists show that they have the ability to freeze a moment in time, then transform it into an event. Karsh intrinsically understands this. While his portraits are masterfully composed and exceptionally lit, he also understands how to capture the essence of his subject. Since most are universally known figures, his challenge is to present these individuals in a style that is not cliché. A wonderful example from this show is that of Mies Van der Rohe framed by (supposedly) one of his own drafting triangles, cropped in the foreground. I will probably spend a lifetime trying to achieve a single photograph of this quality.

Bergman, who is not as well known as Karsh, has achieved a level of quality that is all together something else. And I think that this is probably a good way to describe his work because each image is, compositionally, “all together” – the subject stands clearly in front, the background is a reduced abstraction of color and texture. But then there is also that “something else” happening, too. The people Bergman has selected look as though their daily existence is one continuous struggle. You get the sense that their lives are devoid of any simple pleasures. Far from glamorous or accomplished, these are people from the fringes of society. But Bergman seems to have captured the essence of their persona as skillfully as Karsh has.

It is this ability of capturing the essence that seems to be the common link between these two exhibitions: portraits of individuals, famous or anonymous, who live lives that are somewhat removed from the mainstream of society. And while the methods of portraying these individuals may be quite different, the profound respect that both artists appear to have for their subjects is seemingly identical.

October 18, 2009

Exhibit: The Art of Structure

BHS_Cox-showI am pleased to announce my new show called “The Art of Structure.” The use of the word structure in the title refers to objects built by man, though not necessarily buildings. Many of the images here are buildings, but structure can also refer to a chair, a door knob, or even a utility pole. The intent is not to present a depiction of a building, instead my interest in these constructions is with how they relate to their environment: the interaction of the man-made and the natural world.

The exhibition features 27 black & white photographs, and is currently on display at the Cox Communication’s NVA headquarters in Herndon, VA, through December 2009. Unfortunately, the show is not open to the public. However, you may view all of the works included by clicking here.