Professional Photography - - Agenda -

Ben Brain reviews one of 2016’s finest photo books, ZZYZX, in which Gre­gory Halpern ex­plores ran­dom Cal­i­for­nia land­scapes with his sub­tle eye ZZYZX (pro­nounced zye-zix) is widely recog­nised by the cognoscenti as one of 2016’s finest photo books. And with good rea­son. Amer­i­can-born and Rochester­based pho­tog­ra­pher Gre­gory Halpern (1977) spent five years work­ing on this body of work. Ti­tled af­ter a vil­lage in the Mo­jave desert, Saint Bernardino County, Halpern’s pho­to­graphs ex­plore the Cal­i­for­nian land­scape in a non-spe­cific but poignant rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the area, ac­cen­tu­ated by his sen­si­tive sense of colour and sub­tle vi­sion. Part land­scape and part doc­u­men­tary, Halpern’s Cal­i­for­nian to­pogra­phies, ur­ban scenes and por­traits have an am­bi­gu­ity and vis­ceral mys­te­ri­ous­ness. Of­ten pick­ing his Cal­i­for­nian lo­ca­tions at ran­dom us­ing Google Maps, Halpern shot around a thou­sand rolls of film to create this body of work. It was a chance en­counter that ZZYZX landed on my desk the same day I vis­ited the Paul Nash ex­hi­bi­tion at Tate Bri­tain. De­spite Nash (1889-1947) hav­ing been a Bri­tish painter work­ing in the early 20th cen­tury, I couldn’t help but make loose con­nec­tions be­tween ZZYZX and some of Nash’s works and sen­ti­ment. With a mix of sur­re­al­ist sym­pa­thies, ab­strac­tion and mys­te­ri­ous nar­ra­tives, there’s an am­bigu­ous sense of place that both artists sug­gest in their work. While non­spe­cific to place, they both cap­ture its essence while leav­ing room for the viewer to create their own fic­tions. “There are places, just as there are peo­ple and ob­jects and works of art, whose re­la­tion­ship of parts cre­ates a mys­tery, an en­chant­ment which can­not be an­a­lysed,” as Paul Nash once wrote. Halpern’s pow­er­ful im­age of burnt and black­ened Joshua trees in the desert car­ries a sim­i­lar res­o­nance and semi­hu­manesque pres­ence to some of Nash’s early tree stud­ies such as ‘The Three’, 1911. As usual, the pub­lisher MACK has done a ster­ling job of de­sign­ing and pro­duc­ing Halpern’s work. The sim­ple un­ob­tru­sive de­sign, se­quenc­ing and art­ful jux­ta­po­si­tions al­low the viewer’s mind to wan­der through Halpern’s semi-fic­tional land­scape. The pro­duc­tion val­ues, print­ing and pa­per stock all en­sure the work is beau­ti­fully ren­dered.

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