New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 5 February 15 to 21, 2012

The Last Master
Robert Bourdeau
Japan by Robert Bourdeau. Source: houkgallery.com
Robert Bourdeau, "Japan" 2005

Robert Bourdeau belongs to a fast vanishing tradition that gloried in the sensuous surface. Unlike his fellow Canadian, Edward Burtynsky, whose work, despite its 19th century quotations, has a more contemporary edge, Bourdeau quietly continues the style and sensibility of the mid-century Edward Weston-Ansel Adams-Minor White school of large format photography.

Dominating the alternative, art photography scene in America from the late 1940’s through the 60’s, there was always something of the American West about the work of this school, even when it was done elsewhere. (One can hardly overestimate the impact the vast scenery of the West had on early photographers like Timothy Sullivan—and continued to have on his 20th century successors, Weston and Adams in particular.) In the work of Minor White, who was Boudeau’s mentor, this love of the visible world with its concomitant desire to capture every subtlety merged with an Eastern mysticism. Adamant about the possibilities of using photography to achieve a heightened state, White had deep affinities with the Abstract Expressionists for whom the outer object was also a reflection of an internal reality state. For White and his followers, the visible was the route to the invisible, the objective artifact the door to subjective experience.

Setting itself in opposition to the outgoing, fast-paced, on-the-move style of photojournalism, and featured regularly in the Aperture of the time, this was a photography that prided itself on exquisite craftsmanship and a meditative approach to camerawork.

Robert Bourdeau may be one of its last Masters.

In the work shown here at the Edwynn Houk Gallery the content is landscape, both natural and man-made. To my eye the latter are the more interesting. The textural lushness of decaying metal structures is shown to good effect.

Lorraine, France by Robert Bourdeau. Source: houkgallery.com
Robert Bourdeau, "Lorraine, France" 1999

In these industrial ‘landscapes’, more than in the grand panoramas, Bourdeau’s feeling for volume as well as texture is evident. Even in decay, the sheer bulk of this equipment is impressive, giving it far more presence than the detached and distanced natural landscape. We feel as if we are in the room with these things that stand before us, trumpeting their power.

Today this work, beautiful as it is, is neither avant garde nor wildly experimental. On the contrary. Yet, it hardly matters that I have seen similar work elsewhere; its sheer photographic gorgeousness is justification enough.

Robert Bourdeau



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Thursday, January 12 to
Saturday, February 18, 2012
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