A Natural Progression
Bold youth meets refined middle age in an exhibit of two Bay Area artists.
Thursday, August 2, 2001
Poplars, Po River Valley, 1998 by Mark CitretThe history of art overflows with stories of artists evolving through phases. We see the early work, fresh from the cocoon of training, emerging like a chrysalis spreading its newfound wings. Then the mature work appears, marked by signs of mastery of material and the heart. Finally, the late period shows the world a transcendent vision, or, sadly, paraphrase and degeneration. A dual exhibition featuring photographs by Mark Citret and Rolfe Horn at the Weston Gallery in Carmel affords the opportunity of seeing two photographers at different stages of development. In one there is youthful enthusiasm, a vital freshness; in the other, a veteran''s seasoned self-confidence as he imposes his vision on his chosen world of subject matter.
Citret and Horn, two San Francisco Bay Area-based photographers, have both mastered the medium in contrasting and fascinating ways. Citret, born in 1949, has discovered a process that gives him a final pale image infused with soft sepia tones. Horn, born in 1971, utilizes long exposures that "burn" evocative blacks and grays into sky, cloud, tree, rock, water and arcing freeway. Citret reveals his interpretation of reality as an understated veil; Horn enthusiastically declares his sense of wonder.
Photographers frequently work in series, mining a type of subject for its expressive possibilities. Both photographers here have favored subjects with roots in the West Coast tradition of straight photography. The land and human''s relationship to it reign supreme. Regardless of their darkroom manipulations, which are strongly apparent, there is consummate respect for traditional composition, clarity and the unspoken contract between viewer and picture-maker. You won''t find shock-value expressionism here, no Joel Peter-Witkin gross-outs, no Nan Goldin junkies. Citret and Horn work on the premise that the world is hauntingly beautiful, in spite of what we might do to it.
Early in his career, Citret moved from a poetic, though conventional, interpretation of landscape in the early 1970s to the more complex themes of human manipulation of nature and humanity''s place in that landscape. His recent work presents, in diaphanous sepia tones, construction sites or manmade structures depicted not as the dreck of an industrial world but as locations of geometric harmony that will be subsumed eventually by geological and chronological forces.
Citret''s "Tupman Canal, 1994," for instance, features a broad view down a canal with a graceful parabolic curve marking where water meets the concrete embankment. A line of trees is barely discernible along the horizon. Reflected in the expanse of water are cirrus clouds, their gauzy threads stretching below a dense sky. Peace permeates the scene. In his interpretation, men have not cut into the earth or masterminded natural run-off patterns. Rather, as concrete and cloud, water and tree consist of the same pale sepia substance, the elegant composition suggests a moment in the great continuum when human handiwork resembles that of nature. But this moment is transitory; the concrete embankment, like the walls of all fortresses, will be breached--by water, weather and those same gauzy strands that represent erosion and forces we can only imagine.
In Citret''s other images, a human presence is always seen or felt. Look at "Poplars, Po River Valley, 1998," and what seems a forest enveloped in mystical light is revealed as a groomed stand of trees, row after straight row of planted growth. He depicts doorways, corridors, staircases, ladders, steel columns suspended in the feathery light achieved with what he calls his "vellum" prints--a special photographic paper developed in a secret potion of chemicals that emphasizes the insubstantiality of forms. Coupled with his strong compositional sense, this paradox of balanced arrangement and the ephemeral creates, in image after image, meditations on time.
Horn''s photographs show a heavier but no less evocative hand. His means are the black and white extremes of the medium, as well as the magic that occurs with extended exposure times and taking photographs at night. If Citret imposes his philosophy and sensibility on his subject matter, Horn travels around looking and responding with the exuberance of a seeker. Whether it''s the Oakland Hills, Eureka, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Oregon, New Jersey or Thailand, his pictures are imbued with the joy of seeing mysterious truths in man-made and natural subjects.
Empty Lot, Boardwalk, NJ, 1998 by Rolfe Horn
Horn''s emotional range varies, as do his subjects. There is his abstract essay on form in his freeway studies series, as well as the awestruck "Fire on the Mountain, Eureka, CA 1999." But the photographs have their constants. It''s as if the photographer, using his best-known palette of techniques, is trying to capture the one image that expresses his subjects'' essence. Black skies with stars'' tracings, the geometric grace of industrial forms, the massive drama of clouds playing over land, balls of manmade light insisting their way through his silvery surfaces, and a profound quietude are the hallmarks of these scenes. And they are all nice places to go.
In his "Lotus Bud Chedi, Sukothai, Thailand, 2000," Horn has communicated both the resilience of faith as well as the inexorable march of time. Placed low in the frame, the intricately detailed chedi (temple) is surrounded by stone columns thrusting into a sea of thin clouds. The white stone of the structure contrasts dramatically with the dark lichen-encrusted columns that seem beholden to the chedi even though, compositionally, they overwhelm it. Like guards buffering the religious monument from the surrounding unseen jungle, the columns stand as mere vestiges, weather-racked attendants giving their last full measure. Horn''s image is reverent and awe-inspired.
However, in some of Horn''s images, the effects of the long exposure/nocturnal shoot seem to exist for their own sake; his amazing control of tone and adept composing obfuscate the photographer''s relationship to the subject, concealing the emotional connection that is so evident elsewhere. One is left both marveling at the technique and wondering about the subject. In his series of freeway studies, for example, Horn attempts to make sublime the columns and arcs of concrete; though ravishing, they aren''t terribly original.
Horn works as an assistant to the noted photographer, Michael Kenna, whose photography established the nocturnal realm as being ripe with expressive potential. Kenna used (and uses) long exposure times to remove extraneous details, suffuse the whole with ethereal light and make everything seem as if it is being seen for the first time. Horn does this very skillfully, and like Kenna, chooses, for now, manmade or natural subjects that loom out of the black paper awash in the mysterious glow of artificial lights or moon or cloud-shrouded sun.
Citret and Horn, two photographers at different stages of their careers, have created personal and refined bodies of work that are grounded in tradition and reveal the expressive, even philosophical, potential that remains within the conventions of straight photography.
The Weston Gallery is located at 6th near Lincoln, Carmel; the exhibition runs through Aug. 13. 624-4453.