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Two Exhibitions: (Larger than) Life, and Death

January 15th, 2013 No Comments

La Mort La Vie.  That’s the name of an exhibition that just opened in Staten Island, New York, and the emphasis is more on the ‘Mort’ part – Death.

Photographer Agnes Thor has long had a preoccupation with death: “Death has been on my mind for so long I can’t remember what sparked it to life” (a strangely inverted play on words there) and a personal tragedy was the trigger for her photographic exhibition that “this will all end someday.”  

The opening photograph of the grave of Thor’s grandmother has so much space, depth and light – yet it is somewhat overshadowed by the obvious, dark, hulking headstone in the near left foreground – wonderfully framed and composed.   A similar feeling of stillness, a calmness, pervades all of Thor’s photographs, even one with a trace of motion: sand streaming in an hourglass.

One or two pictures are overtly morbid but are thoughtfully done.  Interestingly, light plays a key part in most photographs of Thor’s dark subject, from the misty, ‘blue hour’ photograph of a cemetery to the light-flooded but russet and relatively dark image of something more basic and elemental

Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, will soon be hosting an equally unusual exhibition but, instead of having to do with death or life, it has to do with larger than life.  They call it ‘Big Pictures’.  It’s all about huge, vast prints.  A very informative press release is virtually a mini-essay about the exhibition.  

The museum explains their exhibition thus: “Photographers like Ansel Adams (1902–1984) and Margaret Bourke White (1904 1971) understood that larger photographs resulted in a distinctive shift for the viewer.”

True: a larger-than-life image allows the eye to roam through limited areas and explore the photograph, “creating a unique and powerful personal experience.”  

That being the case, one wonders why all that real estate is wasted on a few unworthy images that would be suitable for postcards.  For instance, on what can only be described as a ‘Modern Artsy’ image that is not much of a ‘Landscape’, as the title proclaims it to be, due to limitations on part of both the photographer and her subject.

Much better are images that are not only epic in scale but which project the grandeur of nature alongside the inventiveness of man, and are beautifully lit and composedWilliam Henry Jackson’s Excursion Train is the type of image that would enthrall as a ‘big picture’.  Too bad that the Amon Carter Museum’s curators seem to have missed the boat – or the ‘excursion train’ as it were – in choosing a few too many small-time artsy images for their ‘Big Picture’ exhibition.


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