Four photographers with very different voices have come together in a new exhibition in Queens, New York. “The Second Annual Group Show” opened on March 21, 2014 the B.S. Gallery features works by Sumner Wells Hatch, Martina von Rettig, Ed Cheng, and Ben Simon (who doubles as gallery owner). All of the artists are affiliated with the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York, although the show itself is not.
Sumner Wells Hatch is seldom seen with an instrument other than his 8×10 camera, which he uses to take contemplative large format photographs of his family home in New Hampshire as well as portraits in New York. But, the images in Memento Mori: Ojai, California 2010, which are featured in the exhibition, express a very different tone. Not only were they taken with a handheld 35mm camera, a process that could not be more different than that of the 8×10, but also according to Mr. Hatch, “These photographs were taken in a moment of insanity.”
The insanity to which he refers was prompted by his aunt’s funeral in Ojai, California. There he spent several hours wandering the premise during what he calls “the negative space of time.” That is, between the wake and the funeral and the family gatherings.
“I was blacked out,” he said. “All I could do was take pictures.”
But, ironically these photos are not insane at all, they are serene scenes, with a slight hint of movement: a hose pouring water into a pool, light poking through a road overhung with trees and moss, palm branches blackened partially by Hatch’s shadow. In one photograph, shadowed shrubbery forms a circle around a small white house poking out in the distance. The details in the shadows are so clear, that even if you blur your eyes, you might think you are looking at an etching.
That is no surprise, since all of Hatch’s photographs are printed masterfully, something that cannot be represented by the scan that accompanies this article. In that sense, it is worth the trip to Queens to see these prints in person.
Finish artist Martina von Rettig freezes objects into ice then photographs the results before they melt.
The process is scientific, but the results magical: each photograph shows a unique interaction of light, ice, and a random foreign object that von Rettig has created and pushed into abstraction. Some of the foreign objects she uses include, licorice, a metal ring, and splashes of neon paint.
Looking at any one of her images, it is not immediately clear what the object is before you. But, that lack of identity draws you in even closer because you will inevitably find yourself asking questions like, what is this? How did it get there? Is it man made? But, all of those questions will quickly fade because the beauty of the anonymous object in front of you is so pure, so dazzling, and the form so rare, that your gut will just take over. And you will find yourself standing there for a long time looking at this thing you know nothing about. All you know is that you want to keep looking because it is just so beautiful.
“Water, the symbol of knowledge, just like emotions, exists in a constant state of change,” said von Ritteg. “Even when seemingly still, water and all that it contains, evolves, evaporates, transforms, moves around and lives.”
One of her photographs looks like a Christmas ornament or a planet. It is a clear, whitish sphere divided by thin, horizontal rings. This piece of ice was made in layers, which each layer containing a metal ring.
When asked what led her to first make and photograph these structures, Ms. Von Rettig said, “I ask myself the same question.”
It started as an experiment in January of 2013. Having just finished her first semester as a full-time student at the International Center of Photography, von Rettig flew home to Finland for a week to await her visa renewal. Because she could not predict how long she would have to stay in Finland (where it was even colder than 20 below zero degrees Celsius), she started playing around with light and ice, without any project in mind. She began by putting various substances in the middle of water, freezing those substances then photographing the process, watching it all melt away. When she looked at the resulting images, the beauty astonished her.
Ms. Von Rettig has a degree in business administration, but 3 years ago turned to photography, painting and drawing. “I have always found it hard to express myself through words,” she said. “For me photography, drawing and painting feel more natural and comfortable.”
Documentary photographer Ed Cheng unveiled some images from his Las Fallas, 2011 series for the exhibition and at a timely moment, since the annual Velencia, Spain-based celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph just occurred this past week. Mr. Cheng’s images are handmade silver gelatin prints depicting scenes from this very dramatic ceremony where highly organized rituals include the costume wearing, the building and burning of Styrofoam statues and cartoon-like puppets, fireworks, and floral offerings for the Virgin Mary.
In one of Mr. Cheng’s photographs, a woman wears a long, pale, 19th-century traditional Spanish dress with a black veil. Adorned in a cross necklace and dangling earrings, she looks down as she offers her bouquet of flowers in front of her. She has no idea, it seems, that she is being photographed.
But, perhaps one of the most astounding and beautiful images is the one in which firemen appear to be extinguishing the flames of the aftermath. Silhouettes of half broken puppets and angel statues can be seen within the flames of a huge fire. A fragment of a man’s fabricated face sits at the front of the fire, looking almost like the Wizard of Oz. Meanwhile, straight lines of spouted water form a tilted cross behind the fireman’s silhouette.
“Tradition says [the Styrofoam creations] all should go at midnight. The reality is they go when the firemen get there,” said Mr. Cheng.
Mr. Cheng first heard about the festival in 2006, when he was living in Seville for 4 months. That same year, Easter fell late and he figured out a way to squeeze in a trip to the festival.
Mr. Cheng who also works as a freelance computer programmer, has been documenting events like this for long periods of time. He is also working on a series documenting Christian Holy Weeks and Easters around the world.
“The inspiration really is a reflection of people telling me their experiences of the event,” he said. “And I like things burning [photographically].”
Ben Simon, who put together the show, creates shadow boxes of collaged famous works of art, which he then photographs and leaves in the negative.
La Pietà, which is based on the 15th century Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, shows Jesus dead in Mary’s laps while she grieves his sacrifice.
“This is a story many identify with,” he said. “It tells an ongoing story about power.”
When asked about this further, Simon cited the news.
“Increasingly, I have become aware that the story I see most is the battle between big and small,” he said, giving the example of how the value of money increases while that of individuals does not. “It has been an echo in our culture through out history. I believe the proportions of this fight and the cost of the outcome is greater now than it has ever been before.”
Through his work, Mr. Simon hopes to reference this battle from what he calls the “collective history.
Simon, who was born in New York City, but grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey before attending the Tyler School of Art where he majored in studio art, is also the owner of the Astoria-based gallery in which this exhibition is based. This is the second show he has organized at his gallery.
“I put it together because I believe that artists need to create their own opportunities to keep their networks active,” he said.
The show will be up for the next few weeks. Visitors are welcome to make an appointment by contacting Ben Simon: firstname.lastname@example.org.