Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Everybody knows this is (almost) nowhere

The Grove
71 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 654-9675
David Ottenstein: Almost Nowhere
Through Nov. 9, 2012.

I was down in the Ninth Square for City-Wide Open Studios so I stopped by The Grove to see David Ottenstein's photo show, Almost Nowhere, at the urging of Barbara Hawes. I was glad I did.

Mostly black and white images, it is a mix of Western landscapes—arid expanses of the Southwest—and industrial landscapes and a couple of interiors. The bulk of the work was shot in the past year and a half.

There is a deeply considered austereness to the images, a contemplative silence even in such a picture as the C-print "Kitchen and Bathroom, IA." An interior shot, it depicts a rundown room in the foreground colored in yellows and oranges and a door opening into a bathroom with pink walls.

"Picnic Table, White Sands, NM" ©David Ottenstein
One striking image, "Picnic Table, White Sands, NM," depicts a curved sun shelter—corrugated with vertical lines—for a picnic table at White Sands National Monument. Ottenstein, who was gallery-sitting at The Grove for the day, tells me he is "fascinated by the form and offness of these things." It evokes a bus stop but there wouldn't be a bus stop in this expanse of dunes.

"What strikes me is the immediacy of the form, shape and texture," says Ottenstein. There is a compelling contrast between the precise lines and curves of the sun shelter and the soft undulations of the surrounding landscape.

Ottenstein has spent a lot of time in national parks. He says he is "intrigued by the presence of people doing what they're supposed to do there"—such as looking and taking pictures—and "how we design and structure [these] places set aside to preserve natural beauty."

"Whiting Bros, NM" ©David Ottenstein
"Whiting Bros., NM" is just a color photo of a couple of crumbling old highway signs in a western expanse. But the image packs an emotional punch out of proportion to its subject matter. Part of it is the golden quality of the afternoon light when it was shot. But more than that, I think, is sense of distance it conveys, both geographic and temporal.

Ottenstein tells me the concept of "almost nowhere" refers to solitude and quiet.

"I'm looking for remoteness. When I'm on the road for weeks at a time, I'm alone, by myself," he says, whether it's because he needs to work that way or because he's seeking out these kinds of images.

"I just came back a few weeks ago from a very different trip," says Ottenstein. Rather than pack his camera out to the Midwest or west, he sojourned down south to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

"It was frustrating. I didn't find the 'almost nowhere.' It was disconcerting how far I thought I was from the smallest towns and I went around a bend and there was big new house like you might see in Orange," says Ottenstein. "It was a good trip but I think I'm sticking with the west and midwest."

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home