BY MITCHELL SEIDEL
Star-Ledger Staff 2004
At its best, fine art photography can be a personal contact between two people, a perfectly linked line of communication that goes from the creative mind of the photographer to the viewer by way of the camera. It also involves walking a fine line between the cliché and the obtuse.
Larry Siegel, whose photographs comprise half of the current show of the Chamot Gallery in Jersey City, "Salt of the Earth," manages to impart his feelings without being too obvious or too coy.
Siegel's images are a collection of life's observations. The expression "all over the map" comes to mind, but in a good sense. The photographs are remembrances of travels past, glimpses of light and shadow that, for one reason or another, caught the photographer's eye. That could mean how light comes in through the slats in a blind, or how time-worn stone stairs maintain their form even as the years eat away at them. It could also mean drawing wholesale conclusions about interpersonal relationships when given only the slightest of visual clues.
The works have a decidedly European feel to them -- in part because they seem to have been taken during the artist's travels there. Having said that, they don't come across as travel photographs, but rather as an image-maker's note pad of observations, a collection of views that serve as visual anecdotes.
"Stephan and Joshua" is a darkly rendered image of a tree-lined dirt road. It is daytime, yet Siegel shows the treetops as massive dark expanses, dominating the image and blocking out the sky. The two young subjects are at opposite ends of the road, one out of focus in the foreground at the bottom of the frame, the other practically an afterthought so far down the path as to be nearly indistinguishable from the trunks of the trees that line the road.
"Woman with Up-raised Arm" is like a still from Italian film of the 1950s, a cinema vérité frame that asks as many questions as it answers. Siegel presents a horizontal sunbathing torso in a vertical crop, eliminating the head and legs. Leaning away from the camera, the woman gestures toward an unseen partner, who is depicted merely by a supporting arm and partial upper body in the top of the shot. The nature of the exchange and the relationship is left up to the viewer to determine, but the body language is strong enough to suggest a connection between the two people.
The solitary "Two Men of the Beach (Nazarre, Portugal)" is equally mysterious. The title subjects stand, backs to each other, some 10 yards distant at water's edge. One faces the camera, looking down at the sand in contemplation, while the other looks out toward the gently rolling waves. Like them, the viewer is left to contemplate the textures of the sand, the foamy waves and the hilly coastline faintly visible on the hazy horizon.
The bulk of the images in the show are black-and-white, Siegel's stronger suit. When he uses color to record his impressions, he adds a more literal quality to the works that make the images seem more like high-quality stock travel photographs, something that is obviously not his goal.
Mitchell Seidel writes about photography for The Star-Ledger. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (973) 392-1780.