|From baptisms to beach getaways, the water's edge is a site for transformations. With this threshold as its inspiration, Robert Mann Gallery's summer exhibition At the Water's Edge includes both historical and contemporary images engaged with those recurrent summer traditions of flocking to the water, either manmade or natural, for a much needed respite. It is no wonder then that the shoreline and the swimming pool have provided numerous photographers with inspiration.|
In works by Julie Blackmon and Jeff Brouws, the exciting world of poolside fantasy is revealed from nostalgic memories of our childhood poolside costumes to visiting summer carnivals and watching the stuntman with a sense of marvelous adventure. At the same time, it is as much a place of rigorous exercise as the stage for elaborate theatricality, as shown in Joe Deal's winsome view of suburbanite synchronized swimmers.
Moving oceanside, we find sunlit bronzed bodies toned and soft alike in the sandy snapshots of Henry Wessel and Fred Stein. With subjects finding relief from oppressive summers at Coney Island and San Francisco's City Beach we see a virtual promenade of stripped down subjects. Transported to a state of otherness from the everyday, it is no wonder that the beach is not only a place of social display but also the locus of ethereal nature presented as an otherworldliness in images from Henry Callahan and Mary Mattingly. Though made some forty years apart and entirely different in concept and approach, each can be seen to evince an existential doubt that suggests the precariousness of being in the world, and yet the joy and mystery that seem to float at the water's edge.
Such metaphysical suggestions make way for abstractions in the exhibition's final section. With playful abandon Laurent Millet and Michel Szulc-Krzyzanowski use the malleability of the shoreline and the sea's propensity to render any manmade interventions temporary as the basis for their conceptual constructions. Conversely, Aaron Siskind captured nature's chance compositions left by the tide, while new photographs of the California surf by Chip Hooper reveal the beautiful order and chaos of the water's movement. From playful fantasies and humorous cuts of the human comedy to contemplative abstractions, the works on display offer a welcome break from summer squalor!
This selection of pool and seaside photographs doesn't entirely avoid cliché, but the mix is still shrewd and invigorating. And if the artists are familiar - many are from the gallery's roster - the best works are not. Alfred Stieglitz, Harry Callahan, Fred Stein, and Aaron Siskind provide solid historical grounding, the last with his found abstractions of seaweed and gull tracks on wet sand. In contrasting approaches, Robbert Flick suggests the relentlessness of surf with his grid of seventy-two images of surging waves, while Elijah Gowin sees the sunlight sparkling on the water between two bathers as a scattering of jewels.