New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Sara VanDerBeek at the Whitney
Sara Vanderbeek
To Think of Time
reviewer # 1
Sara Vanderbeek, Foundation, Dorgenois Street, 2010

While upstairs at the Whitney Lee Friedlander is driving around the US as if his camera had visited one-too-many backyard meth factories, on the first floor Sara VanDerBeek’s camera seems to have taken a couple of Quaaludes and a half bottle of cough syrup. Calm, singular, modestly sized, and carefully spaced around a simple room, the images are a modern update on the classic mid-twentieth century work of Minor White and Aaron Siskind. Printed in muted color, VanderBeek’s images move from carefully placed, sculpturally-treated found objects, mostly architectural salvage, to detailed, straight-on images of the concrete foundations of New Orleans buildings destroyed by hurricane Katrina. In both cases an uneasy, elegiac, and languid air is created; the eye is never made to move too quickly. The prints are infused with a cool color cast, even when direct sunlight intrudes on the scene, and the viewer is left to slowly absorb the subtle way that objects co-exist with light.

 by unidentified photographer.
Sara VanderBeek, Baltimore Window, 2010

The homage to White and Siskind is both direct (in the choice of subject) and conceptual; but unfortunately lacking in an area of critical concern to the earlier photographers is the physical quality of the prints. Both White and Siskind produced meticulous prints with tremendous detail. The VanderBeek images, however, grow weaker as you start to look closer, and you do not have that wonderful feeling of being able to go deeper and deeper into the images. In addition, the decision to print them as C-prints weakens them as well. The color gamut of chromographic paper is tightly constrained, and these images are all pushing up against those limits. If the color range were somewhat larger (as with a pigment based inkjet print), the prints wouldn’t seem to be bunching up around the characteristic chromogenic-cyan and chromogenic-magenta dye colors so prominent in these prints.

These subtleties may seem small,(indeed if you are photographing the landing of soldiers on D-Day, just about all the technical deficiencies in a photograph can be overlooked,) but if you are photographing diffuse light on a concrete wall, there is not a detail too insignificant to be ignored.

Sara Vanderbeek
To Think of Time

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