New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 8 March 7 to 13, 2012

Location Location Location
Willie Doherty
One Place Twice Photo/Text/85/92
Don Burmeister
Remote Control by Willie Doherty. Source:
Willie Doherty, "Remote Control" 1992

One of the first questions viewers have on seeing a landscape photograph, no matter how abstract or generic, is: ‘Where was this taken?’ The importance of this question of place is seen in the small show of large photographs by Willie Doherty currently at the Alexander and Bonin Gallery.

The lower level of the gallery is filled with large black and white photographs of what seems to be obscure corners of some northern European, industrial town. Blank intersections, a path through some scruffy woods, an alleyway between two industrial properties. On top of these the photographer has laid out ominous words in stark, black and white all-caps type: “REMOTE CONTROL”, “UNSEEN BY THE BORDER”, “SHIFTING GROUND.”

Ho-hum, and pretentious were the two phrases that came to mind. Then a glance at the press release changes the equation – Willie Doherty, Derry, Northern Ireland, 1985. Suddenly we see each scene in a different light. The Troubles lurking at every street corner, what did that security camera see last night? Every image now takes on an urgency it lacked before. Each image, seemingly shot with a large format camera, meant that the photographer risked being shot himself whilst taking it. A time and a place have been captured quite effectively.

Decomposed by Willie Doherty. Source:
Willie Doherty, "Decomposed" 2010

Then, as you go up to the second level of the gallery where a selection of more recent work is seen, the importance of place is highlighted further. These images are the same size as the ones below, but color. Now showing segments of sky and stretches of water, these scenes could be just about anywhere. Again text is superimposed over the images – “Haunted”, “Decomposed”, “Submerged.” Without a specific location to ground these images, once again the words “ho-hum” and “pretentious” spring to mind. Alfred Stieglitz did his Equivalents more than 80 years ago, and didn’t need to add subtitles to direct the viewer.

In this convoluted artistic environment Doherty’s intentions are obscure, at least to this viewer. Ironic or not, three words came to mind as I looked up at the clouds over Chelsea: Location, Location, Location!

Willie Doherty
One Place Twice Photo/Text/85/92

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Saturday, January 28 to
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