*Scroll down to view this exhibition in its entirety. Click on each image to see a larger view.
When the New Jersey Photography Forum (NJPF) approached the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey about mounting a show of work by their members, we were enthusiastic for a number of reasons. Co-founded by Nancy Ori and the late Michael Creem, the group has been dedicated to furthering the interests of fine art photographers in New Jersey for the past twenty-five years and has held their regular meetings at the VACNJ. As a local museum, we are committed to supporting, nurturing, and advancing the careers of NJ artists. With a large and very active studio school, we always welcome exhibition content that will be relevant for our students—many of whom are interested in photography. All of these factors made the proposed exhibition a great fit for both organizations.
Working as a team, Mary Birmingham (Curator), Kimberly Fisher (Exhibitions Manager), and Sarah Walko (Director of Programs and Community Engagement) met with NJPF and developed a concept for the exhibition, which was to have taken place in the Art Center’s Main Gallery during July and August of 2020. While a series of recent shows had celebrated the group’s twenty-fifth anniversary, we decided to shift the focus of this one to look forward to the next twenty-five years. We invited NJPF members to submit recent work that would embrace the future and pursue new directions. We asked them to show us where they hoped to take their photographic practices in the future. And then Covid-19 intervened and changed our plans. While our galleries remain closed for the summer, we decided it was even more important to continue with this show—especially with its reference to our shared history and its embrace of the future.
The curatorial team met virtually to select works for the show. Transforming the exhibition to an online one with a digital catalogue altered the selection process in several interesting ways. Normally, curators choose works for a group exhibition by thinking about how the works will relate as a whole when installed in the gallery. They must consider the relative scale of the works, making sure there is enough space while envisioning how they will interact when hung in proximity to one another. Every exhibition creates a new context in which to appreciate art.
While there is no substitute for seeing artworks in person, there are some advantages to planning virtual exhibitions. Without the limitations of the gallery, we were free to choose work that interested us regardless of size or installation requirements. Similarly, displaying works online offers the possibility to place them in various configurations, finding new connections.
Focus Forward highlights the photography of twenty-six NJPF members. Much as we would in a physical gallery, we grouped the works into broad categories, placing those that share affinities and qualities near one another. We arranged the works into a sequence to create a rhythmic flow of images. Our hope is that the viewer scrolling through the exhibition will observe how each sequential image relates to those preceding and following it and will ultimately experience the exhibition as a cohesive whole. Using the freedom of the virtual platform, we utilized a different format for the catalogue, presenting the works as a series of pairs. By taking these different approaches, we invite viewers to experience the works both individually, and as integrated parts of a related group.
Participating artists are Ron Brown, Ruth Brown, Sarah Canfield, Jamin Chen, Glenn Clark, Ken Curtis, Paul Donohoe, Ralph Greene, Theresa Hood, Marv Kaminsky, Kathleen Kirchner, Dorothy Kuehn, Parvathi Kumar, John Markanich, Paul Marvuglio, Leonard McDonald, Charlann Meluso, Charles Miller, Kathleen Nademus, Nancy Ori, Phyllis Raffelson, Mitchell Speert, Tom Stillman, Heidi Sussman, Christine Truhe, and Russ Wills.
Having originally planned this exhibition before the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic, its scope seems especially ironic. In our prospectus, we asked “Looking forward, what are your fears and hopes? What does the future look like through your lens?” These questions have recently taken on entirely different meanings. While none of us has the answers, we know this much is true: whatever the future brings, we will continue to rely on artists to reflect our world through their eyes, and to help us find the meaning and truth in what they see.
All works are courtesy of the artists. Images are subject to copyright.
Architectural subjects inspired many of the participants, so it seemed like a good place to start. These artists often focus on specific segments of buildings—a portion of the façade, a decorative detail, a hidden corner. Some play with reflected images on glass, while others highlight various surface textures. Others manipulate their images by slowing the shutter speed or using photo editing software. Many are clearly interested in exploring abstraction.
We chose Nancy Ori’s abstract photo, Glass Ceiling, as the cover image for our catalogue, and as a point of departure for the virtual exhibition. She explains: “Abstraction is allowing me to explore new realities…I want to take the viewer beyond their familiar reality of the subject to a place where perhaps their questions are not all answered.”
Paul Marvuglio has photographed several buildings by Frank Gehry, including this one in Basel, Switzerland. Here he captured Gehry’s unique design by concentrating on its steel and glass curves that reflect light and nearby structures.
Ron Brown, Barcelona Sagrada Familia, silver gelatin print, 20 x 16 inches
Ron Brown captures the undulating masonry curves of a building façade—the Sagrada Familia by Gaudi, in Barcelona, Spain.
This photograph, made at Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, NM subtly calls attention to a ladder leaning against the exterior wall, its rungs revealed by the shadows they cast “climbing” the base of the wall.
The artist used a multiple exposure layering technique to create this digital photo collage. Combining three images—all photographed in Scotland—she superimposed sky, landscape, and textural elements to convey a sense of time and place that is both real and imagined.
Christine Truhe, Blowing Skyline, digital photograph, 26 x 38 inches
By moving the camera during a 10-second exposure, the artist created a sense of motion in “the city that never sleeps,” and imbued the expected geometry of the New York City skyline with a curvy, dynamic profile.
The image is an abstract manipulation of a photograph the artist shot in 2013 at Acorn Hall, a historic mansion in Morristown, NJ. He transformed the original subject using twirling and distortion techniques, creating a dynamic image of colorful curved forms.
The blue glass façade of this iconic building in Valparaiso, Chile reflects the city’s waterfront and colorful hillside. The rippled reflections on the blue surface resemble waves in the ocean.
Nancy Ori, Steampunk, archival inkjet on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
Several artists in the exhibition—including Ori—take a painterly approach, creating work that often blurs the boundaries between painting and photography. Printing their photos onto canvas only enhances this relationship. Ori notes: “As I work through the process of discovering, simplifying, enhancing, and printing onto canvas, I often feel more like an abstract painter than a photographer.”
This graffiti-like image suggesting a dancing figure also resembles an abstract painting. A found image, the photographer discovered it on an artist’s easel board, which is frequently the repository of random paint overspills and splatters.
Beginning with a photo of a section of sculpture, the artist heavily manipulated it in Lightroom and Photoshop. His intent was to create an abstract image that has the appearance of a glass bead curtain hanging down onto a floor or flat surface, capturing a sense of color and movement that was totally removed from the original subject.
Dorothy Kuehn, Homage 1-4, archival ink on metallic paper, 12 x 12 inches each
Portraits and figures provide provocative subject matter for several of the Focus Forward artists.
Here the artist combined a picture of an androgynous-looking mannequin with one of architectural glass to produce a slightly distorted effect. Printed four times on metallic paper using different color palettes, she creates a Warhol-like approach to portraiture.
The artist shot this photograph in Jersey City earlier this year, capturing an image of Eduardo Kobra’s mural of David Bowie. She recalls: “The mural is 180 feet high, and as I was walking past it on a rather rainy gray day, I noticed its reflection in a small puddle and liked how it was framed by the sidewalk and pavement textures, the water slightly distorting the easily recognizable face of this famous musician.”
Heidi Sussman is a process-driven, photo-based mixed media artist always experimenting with new ways to produce art. For this work she used an image appropriated from a fashion magazine and transformed it using an image resist technique, with acrylic paint and a gel press. After pulling a print of the manipulated image, she re-photographed it with a cell phone camera, creating a new work with a decidedly vintage effect.
Russ Wills, Emerge 12, 2020, fused glass, 13 ¾ x 9 x 6 inches (multiple views) russwills.com
This is one of a series of portraits made entirely from glass. The artist prints a photograph into a layer of glass using glass powders and fusing techniques to create a sculptural portrait. He explains: “The images are somewhat ambiguous; the portraits may either emerge from or disappear into the surrounding chaos, leaving the viewer to decide his or her fate.”
This runner was the anchor (final) leg in the girls 4x400m relay at the NJ State High School winter track championships, early in March. Clark recalls: “Capturing motion is always challenging, and indoor speed even more so. My desire was to have the subject be sharp enough to discern some details, but still allow for some motion blur.” The girl’s running momentum seems to embody the theme of Focus Forward.
Leonard McDonald digitally captured unique, abstract, and intricate patterns in smoke. He describes this photograph as “a snapshot that captured a brief instance during the evolution of smoke from smoldering incense.” While the photographer imposed lighting and exposure boundaries, he allowed the composition to be determined entirely by chance.
Ralph Greene, In the Surf, digital photograph, 24 x 18 inches
Many of the NJPF members are well-known for their nature and landscape photography—a handful of which are on view here.
Ralph Greene took this photograph of the surf breaking on a rock on Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii, but the most captivating element may be the clouds above. In an almost surreal juxtaposition of forms, a solitary cloud hangs in the sky echoing the shape of the rock below, and a bank of clouds suggests a breaking wave.
Like the preceding image, this photograph relies on its composition for impact. The photographer gives us an unexpected view of a tree, focusing on the base of the trunk and hinting at the gnarled root system that clings to the stone wall at its base. His use of a landscape format is somewhat unconventional, “chopping” the top of the tree from our view.
Ruth Brown, Mesa Arch – Canyonlands National Park, digital photograph, 16 x 20 inches ruth-brown.format.com
Since she was in her twenties, Ruth Brown has been visiting and photographing various National Parks across the United States—a life-long project that has been the subject of several solo exhibitions. She was inspired to create new work specifically for this show: “When I saw that the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey’s theme was ‘Focus Forward’ – I felt it was logical to continue with my NP Series by moving forward to places I had never been before.” This work seemed particularly well-suited for our theme, with its sweeping vista that invites the eye to traverse the distance and look ahead.
For the past several years Jamin Chen has made more than three dozen prints of close-up views of tree bark. The individual trees are differentiated by their frame numbers. With this series the artist wishes to approximate the rhythms and variations present in musical compositions, and notes: “It is hoped that the image may cause the viewers to evoke some sensation and imagination in an abstract way as we do when we listen to a piece of music.”
This highly abstracted image actually depicts ice forming on a stream in the Watchung Reservation. The artist offers a fanciful and intriguing explanation: “The image you see was created by Dryad fairies that live in the trees by the brook. In the winter, Dryads love to make interesting designs with the ice as it forms in the flowing brook.”
Sarah Canfield, Light Before the Tunnel, transparent pigment prints in backlit wooden box, 24 x 36 x 11 inches sarahcanfield.com
This three-dimensional work investigates the intersection of photography, painting, and sculpture. The artist explains her process: “Multiple layers of transparent images optically merge, creating an illusion of deep space. Images of electrical cords combined with organic forms suggest the intrusion of technology into the body or the natural world. I began creating this work by taking still life photographs and then distressed and painted into the photographic prints. In addition, I created a soft pastel painting based on these prints that became another source image for this layered, sculptural construction.”
While still-life and genre subjects are often popular with photographers, this exhibition only includes a few examples.
Theresa Hood admires the works of the Dutch Masters, especially the still life paintings, and their influence can be seen in many of her images. For this work she arranged vintage and antique objects, illuminating them by flashlight for a long exposure. She processes her images in Photoshop, applying painting filters and textures to lend a painterly feel, and frames her photographs like the paintings they resemble.
Kathleen Nademus, Off My Rockers, gum bichromate, 20 x 24 inches
Kathleen Nademus uses the traditional 19th-century photographic process, gum bichromate, to achieve a painterly effect in this work. She utilizes the photo editing program Photoshop to create color separation negatives to use in the multi-layered printing process, effectively combining old and new technologies.
The image is both nostalgic and wistful, with its empty rockers perched like sentinels on an open porch. While it was not the artist’s intention, this photograph takes on additional meaning in the age of Covid-19—especially as many of us migrate to our porches and yards to observe the world passing by.
Ken Curtis, Psychic Readings, digital photograph, 18 x 24 inches ckcurtis.com
While this photo taken in Greenwich Village is a typical “slice of life” image with its view of New York City street life, it also reveals life behind the lit storefronts. Like a staged tableau or stills from a movie scene, three activities are simultaneously occurring: a barber gives a man a haircut, someone visits a fortune teller, and a solitary man stands in a doorway, looking at his cell phone.
This photograph also provided a suitable way to end this exhibition. These days especially, as we shift our focus forward to the future, no one—not even a fortuneteller—can predict where this view will lead.
The curators wish to acknowledge the help of Nancy Ori, Heidi Sussman, and Russ Wills for their help in organizing this exhibition. Many of the works are for sale, for inquiries please contact Kimberly Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org.