Carolyn Marks Blackwood: Essay by Alan Klotz

Carolyn Marks Blackwood makes deceivingly simple photographs. They are mostly of a single subject matter: Ice, Birds, Fish, Clouds…things we all know and even have a fondness for. But these familiar things are engaged in unusual activities which actually redefine their characteristics and even some of their mystery. They certainly redefine our perception of the spaces in which we see those things in these photographs. So what seems, at first, to be a simple picture, turns out to be a rather complex visual and emotional experience.

As an example, we are shown ice breaking up on the Hudson River due to the opposing forces of tide and current. The ice shatters in jagged shards, and is propelled in patterns by the water moving swiftly below the surface. It looks dangerous as broken glass, as it swirls and collides. These collisions force the ice to rise up like teeth, piling on each other, creating a rather threatening topology of chaos. Each surface, canted this way and that, reflects the light differently, and are rendered more or less translucent by their degree of lift. They often are strangely colored by the effect of sun or sky or some other unforeseen miracle of light. The surface of the river is flat, as is the plane of the picture, yet the swirls and eddies conspire to create the illusion of landscape complete with hills and hollows and heights that seem to come together then break apart in apocalyptic disarray…one loses one’s balance, and one’s breath simply looking at them.

But this is a photographic thing, you cannot see it even if you were there, as I have been, standing next to Carolyn, on a cold winter’s day, on that humble Rhinecliff shore, watching the ice break up dramatically,not 20 feet from where I was…but it’s just ice. It first has to be translated from 3D to 2 by a camera
before it becomes grand opera…specifically by Blackwood’s camera, guided by her eye’s way of knowing just when it’s there…when it’s really there.

The same holds true for her cloud photographs, although they are not the hard edged, blade-like ice objects. They are, rather, more amorphous, textural, and, dare I say it, painterly…where the atmospheric traceries are the meteorological equivalents of brushstrokes. The clouds are all about the colors present in the moment, dynamic and ephemeral. It’s hard to photograph clouds, not just because they are moving, nor because of the proprietary hold on them by Stieglitz and Constable, but because in order to be successful with clouds you almost have to get away from their identity…the pictures can be nebulous, but not cloud-like…they can be recognizable, but not common. These are not common, and like their Stieglitzian forebears they are non-metaphorical equivalents, aspiring to the condition of music.

The birds are more like angry bees than birds…Hitchcock would approve. They add a bewitched layer of texture to the already leaf, and branch confusion of a forest flattened by photography…keeping you out, but somehow drawing you in.

The fish are of course still fish, but remarkably, the softness of the focus of these images allows you to lose that thought, while being more reminiscent of the way Pollock used semi-circles of paint as gestural swipes to give some bracketed order to the brambly wildness of some of his dripped thickets. Blackwood’s photographs are full of energy…and like all good art they are both of this world, yet stand a bit apart from it. We have all been mesmerized by fish tanks, and “looked at clouds from both sides now”, while lying on our backs on a late summer day…but not like these fish, or those clouds…they are strictly
Carolyn’s. Click Here: Arctic Photos