Published by Safe-T-Gallery Inc.
Don Burmeister: Owner/Editor
Barbara Confino: Associate Editor
The Meadowlands are that strange patch of tidal swampland in northern New Jersey that lies between New York and the rest of the country. Part industrial wasteland, part nature preserve, it is a place literally millions of people see, yet few visit. Although it is slowly changing as housing developments and shopping malls encroach, the old factories and dumps retain the air of a lost civilization that has left behind a rich but enigmatic collection of buildings and artifacts.
Ray Mortenson discovered the Meadowlands in the late 1970s and his collection of photographs (published in the classic New Jersey landscape book ‘Meadowlands’) were some of the first to bring a contemporary photographic sensibility to the scene.
It was therefore a little sad to see this collection of images at the Janet Borden Gallery in which the focus has shifted from large landscapes to more intimate scenes. The conceit being they are presented at close to life size - the width of the scene was measured to be either 40 or 50 inchesthe prints were printed to scale. The problem is that this procedure has forced Mortenson to forfeit one of the few variables a documentary photographer has: the ability to frame a scene. Compounding this, the scenes themselves are relatively planar, the lighting flat, and most importantlythe reason for taking each image totally opaque.
The resulting prints are dreary, almost nihilistic records of random, anonymous junk. (I have a suspicion that color may have been the attraction for the photographer. While there were rusty pipes and rich earth tones present in the original scenes and so visible through the viewfinder, they are not, of course, in the resulting black and white negatives.)
Not far from the Meadowlands is Passaic, New Jersey. It is intriguing to read again Robert Smithson’s response to a similar landscape in his comments on his “Monuments of Passaic”.
“Noon-day sunshine cinema-ized the site, turning the bridge and the river into an overexposed picture. The sun became a monstrous light-bulb that projected a detached series of ‘stills’ through my Instamatic into my eye. When I walked on the bridge, it was as though I was walking on an enormous photograph...”*
For better or worse that enormous light-bulb was just not shining 10 miles downstream.
*"The Monuments of Passaic", Artforum, December 1967, p.70.