This week I wished to share with you an image from St. Barthelemy in the French West Indies. It is currently part of a series being featured on Sundayed, a website devoted to provocative weekend reading. I felt this image to be particularly relevant to St. Barths, as the island…
Analyzing an excerpt from the “Journey” series next to Ansel Adam’s Redwood Grove allows us to see how color affects the representation of a subject. Both photographs depict the poetic, monumental Redwood trees of Northern California. There is no attempt to twist or recontextualize nature in either photograph – each is a testament to the majesty of the trees. Adams’ work is more documentarian, less elaborated in the staid, simple black and white tones, but the rich greens and browns of Kathryn’s work, combined with the slightly lower angle, emphasize a sense of magic in the trees. The forest is cast in a fairy tale, and one million possibilities exist within its borders.
Julian Schnabel’s immaculate 2007 The Diving Bell and the Butterfly creates an ethereal, heartbreaking atmosphere that reminds me a great deal of Kathryn’s works from the “One Day” series, or this piece from the “Journey” series. The setting for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a rehabilitation center on the Northern coast of France, and Schnabel, an accomplished artist and director, portrays the place lovingly in sandy taupes, purpley-gray blues, and a divine yellowy-white light. In Kathryn’s works the beaches of the Outer Banks are shown in a similar way, with the hint of human and animal life adding the touch of emotion that pervades the entire duration of Schnabel’s film. Having seen the film before being introduced to Kathryn’s work, upon reviewing it’s impossible to miss how similarly (and well, may I add) both artists have dealt with a similar subject and turned it into something much more meaningful than its face value.
Rene Magritte’s 1955 The Mysteries of the Horizon and Kathryn’s piece of TRAVELERS FROM WHERE IN PLACE both utilize the power of the headpiece. As the royals wore crowns and religious groups their particular habiliments of the head, people wear hats to define who they are. Magritte’s bowler hats, a common motif in his work, are visually interesting, their slight absurdity multiplied each time one appears. They also indicate a sameness, or lack of individuality, amongst the figures, or alternately that it is the same person. The two men of Kathryn’s piece share this sameness, with their black ribboned, perforated white fedoras, light blue shirts, and black backpack straps. We know they are tourists, but do we know why they are there? More importantly, why they wear the same hat? It’s a small hint of Surrealism captured alongside the sites of PLACE.
Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 Christina’s World, the image on the bottom, has become one of the defining images of American art, perhaps only second to Grant Wood’s American Gothic in its communication of American values and lifestyles to the viewer. Kathryn’s image from the “Journey” series is able to express a similar sense of Americana in just as sparse a composition. The tawny, shifting wheat of Wyeth’s piece is echoed in the swaying grass of Kathryn’s piece; compositionally, the ocean in Kathryn’s work is analagous to the circle of mowed field around the house. Just as Wyeth’s farmhouse places the scene in the American midwest and communicates all sorts of morals such an image conveys, the picnic table contextualizes Kathryn’s work. The lone figure is somewhat like the yearning figure of Christina; the table begs for families and couples to enjoy the sun on its planks as Christina struggles to crawl to her home. It’s a sense of melancholy lonliness, seperate from pity or depression, we feel in both pieces.
By Guest Blogger Rachel Swartz
As last week I discussed elements of abstract expressionism in Kathryn’s work (linked), this week I’d like to show how the colors she captures in nature are related to the frenetic, raw pace of Lyrical Abstraction. The muted pastels in both this work from the “One Day” series and Ronnie Landfield’s For William Blake are pretty without being saccharine, muted but not sad; there’s a great balance in both compositions that is more apparent in the emotions aroused in the viewer than in the visual appearance of the work. Both pieces seem to benefit from chance but also show a measured attention to detail; it is the randomness, however, that is celebrated. Landfield’s piece exaults in the dancing, hopping lines of quiet but electric color while the entire premise of Kathryn’s piece – the setting of the sun – is reliant on intangible concepts such as time. Art as abstract as Landfield’s piece has the ability to seem both completely devoid of and dripping in meaning; this multiplicity also permeates Kathryn’s work. There are so many thoughts one may have when viewing this piece, aesthetic, emotional, and theoretical, and none of them are neither right nor wrong.
It’s hard not to see shades of Rothko in Kathryn’s photographs of the sky. One of Kathryn’s favorite subjects, the horizontal rippling of color in the sunset is here represented in vibrant primary colors. Compare to Mark Rothko’s 1980 White Center, one of his later pieces; the deconstructed, raw blocks of color could seem to an abstract expressionist representation of the natural moment Kathryn captured in her piece. The jarring black line in between Rothko’s orange and white is like the crackling fire in the lower left of Kathryn’s composition; it breaks up the delineation without detracting from the power derived from the assemblage of hues. The elements in nature in Kathryn’s photograph – the lone cloud, the wood in the fire – are also related to the texture of Rothko’s painting. The painter’s hand is thus comparable to the photographer’s attention to detail; by capturing the fleeting, ephemeral natural moments in the composition Kathryn puts her own unique perspective into frame.
The motif of the Ferris wheel is a lyrical, evocative one for artists. There is a multiplicity of metaphors – childlike joy and wonder, the circular pattern, an expression of the machine age’s majesty – that the technology conveys by its placement in a composition. See Robert Delaunay’s 1912 The Cardiff Team, an early cubist painting based on different newspaper clippings. Delaunay often reduced objects to discs, and does so with his Ferris wheel; it is stairlike and blocky, more utilitarian than the carnival ride most are used to. The Ferris wheel is framed by deconstructed billboards a team of colorful rugby players, who lift their victorious center to catch a ball and seem to hoist him onto the object, onto its endless cycle of wonder. As Delaunay’s work quietly reproached and celebrated the commercialism of the seaside billboards, Kathryn’s pictures the hotels along a beach. This 2006 piece has the billboard framing the commercial oasis of hotels, with the Ferris wheel lording over the entire scene. Like a friendly giant the Ferris wheel seems to reclaim the ocean and nature for good; it’s almost turning counterclockwise, drawing the beachgoers into its playful insides. The entire piece is nostalgic without being specific, universal in its meaning by capturing a particularly interesting moment in this beach (and Ferris wheel)’s life.
I am excited to be featured today on “The Click” Trent Nelson’s photography blog. Click above to see it live in action!
Kathryn Wagner’s fine art photography has been featured on the arts blog “Le Zèbre bleu”
“Truth has to be made vivid, interesting; it has to be ‘dramatized’…”
– documentary filmmaker Trinh Minh-Ha
Minh-Ha speaks of the need to dramatize truth in documentary film. Having recently viewed her film Surname Viet, Given Name Nam (1989), I thought about the ways in which this dramatization of truth might apply to photography. In the film, Minh-Ha adapts a highly reflexive technique in telling the story of Vietnamese women before and after the war. She stages readings of first-person accounts with actresses and juxtaposes text and spoken word on the screen; all in order to reveal the constructive nature of the filmmaking process.
Although Kathryn’s new series “The Great Divide” is a far cry from post-modern feminist documentary, Minh-Ha’s claim has an interesting connection to Kathryn’s new work. The photographs in the series all engage in a “dramatization” of the truth. Through the Argus and pinhole camera hybrid, Kathryn transforms our everyday surroundings into something unexpected and appealing. The railing 9th Street bridge becomes a shadowy ladder. The awning over the Pavilion transforms into biomorphic shadow on the ground. The visual truth of our everyday experience is invigorated and transformed through the camera. It encourages us to question our aesthetic experience of our surroundings and to look for that “dramatic” element.
By Guest Blogger Rachel Swartz
The tropics were a favored subject of the early moderns, a fascination that has spilled over into popular culture. The lush, exotic watery blues, sandy whites, rocky yellows and leafy greens of the Caribbean and Pacific islands were well-suited to the frenetic style of artists such as Paul Gauguin (see Tahitian Landscape, above). Kathryn’s 2006 work shares the same deep attraction to the rich sensuality of the islands, but her piece is unique in that it captures an image common in contemporary advertising photography, one that has come to represent relaxation, luxury, and attainable exoticism, but challenges this very motif through its compositional framing. The palm fronds gently caress the sand, rather than reaching towards the sky; there is no sign of industry, save for two boats and a windsurfing board that seem to suggest a provincial use of land rather than a commercial one. A creator is not wholly present, creating the sense that the viewer himself has stumbled upon this idyllic, quiet place devoid of human contamination, save for the lucky who stumble upon it.
By Guest Blogger Evan Johnson
The importance of the camera itself is central in thinking about Kathryn’s new series, “The Great Divide”. Using a pinhole camera and the traditional development process, the role of both tool and method are highlighted in a manner altogether different than with digital. Sculptor Alexander Calder wrote in 1943:
When I look at this series, Kathryn’s experimentation with the pinhole speaks to a strong understanding of her materials. Calder says that a painter must speak the language of his colors, pigments, and tools. So to must a photographer master the conversation between light, shadow, line and camera. Be sure to join us for “The Great Divide” at McGuffey Studio 27 on April 3rd(5:30pm-7:30pm)!
ps. A new Calder sculpture will be installed in front of UVA’s Peabody Hall this weekend, check it out!
*quote and photo courtesy of the Calder Foundation.
By Guest Blogger Rachel Swartz
These two pieces of art have little in common visually, but when deconstructed to their meanings and influences are a perfect pair. Shepherd Fairey’s ubiquitous, now-iconic Obama graphic is an exercise in the reduction of elements and a subsequent increase in the arresting power of the work; so is Kathryn’s recontextualizing photograph of the Lone Sailor statue at Golden Gate Park. The precedents for Fairey’s work have been discussed at length – the maybe-plagiarized AP photograph, communist posters, Michael Anderson’s “Big Brother” from his 1956 version of 1984; from all of these influences he extracts the most powerful elements to create the image that we all know today. The expressive eyes, calm forehead, and concerned mouth are all expressed in a few loud punches of color – iconic and loaded ones at that.
Kathryn’s photograph is a similar exercise in minimalism. You see the statue from the back, so the expressiveness of the face is hidden from us, but his popped collar and hat detail his persona. The composition is off-kilter, showing no sense of place or weight, disorienting and confusing the viewer, who is thrown into a one-on-one audience with this now arresting and terrifying figure. The man in the corner seems to be commanding some kind of zealous tourist army; the stark colors and molded wind in the statue’s coat send chills of winter up the viewer’s spine. Just like Fairey’s Obama, Kathryn’s work is able to instill a strong emotion with readable historical reference points into the viewer’s mind with a sparing use of space.
Perhaps more than any art movement in history, nature ruled the world of the Impressionists. Light was of huge importance; they painted outside, en plein air, and strove to capture the sensations of illumination and warmth that radiate from the sun through pure, unfiltered color.
Compare this work from Kathryn’s “Journey” series with Monet’s Landscape at Vetheuil. The obvious, coincidental similarities in subject matter and composition lessen with deeper contemplation. While devoid of human figures, both works allude to the relationship between space and nature through their point of view. Monet’s work sits comfortably, from far away and slightly below; we can see the painter standing where we view the work, dabbing paint on his canvas. The medium of photography allows Kathryn’s point of view to hover slightly above her picture, god-like; there is no sense of time in the composition, except for faint and far-off telephone poles, hinting to civilization on the other side. In Kathryn’s piece the river floats eerily into the road, conflating the viewer’s sense of reality, just as Monet’s farmhouses grow out of the fields of wheat on the hill.
An untrained criticism of photographers would be that there is no great skill involved. The comparison of these two works proves this wholly false. The lighting in each is expert, with Monet’s well rendered and Kathryn’s well timed; the colors in each highlight the warmth of the afternoon sun and the humid mist. Most importantly, both compositions are derived from their choice of subject matter chosen with a trained and inspired eye.