Artist and Critics view of Ralph Gibson

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Assignment 3 - Ralph Gibson Critical Review, Research on Artist, Review of Work, Works by Other Photographers - Analysis

The majority of the information in this blog is taken from Ralph Gibson’s Overtones – Edited by Ray Merrit and Tom Beck – 1998. Edition Stemmle.

This book allowed a number of artist to comment on Ralph Gibson’s photographs and his use of diptychs. These commentary vary in style and length – some are very brief, whilst other are said with poetry, but all were complementary. I have concentrated on their unique and salient points to provide an all round view and perspective of his work. I have used italics where I have used exact quotes The book has an interesting layout whereby each comment is followed by a set diptychs which as often referenced in the text.
Most of these notes are based on my mind maps which are attached – see mind maps for more information

Deborah Sim – Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Greenville County Museum – South Carolina.

She characterises Ralph Gibson photographs as having a ‘special anonymity’ which he achieves with tone and rhythm. These trigger the other senses which in turn cause the mind to remember evocative dream, and memory traces/fragments. His diptychs somehow seem to create harmony with a cacophony of images, and his books take you on a visual journey as if you were following a roadmap or piece of sheet music.

Sarah Greenough – – Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Arts in Washington.
Sarah believes that Ralph Gibson’s photographs captures our imagination through their ‘mystification’ in that they conceal as much as they reveal because of his effective use of shadows and light.
The art of fixing shadows is what Ralph Gibson specialises in, for his photographs capture the reflections of the ‘real’ within the object.
Although his books tend to have virtually no text, or any obvious narrative progression/story, they interact at a visual level through their composition, tone and placement. This interaction takes place in silence and is personal to the viewer.

Max Kozloff – US Art Critic and author.
Max once said that Gibson creates ‘Chamber photographs: duets of tables and chairs, a trio of breasts, shoulder and thigh. They harmonise with an almost conversational nonchalance that is to be studied.’
He uses the famous image of the hand on the door  2989675.jpg as an example of the techniques he deploys
which include:-
– The half open door – to cause the mind to enquire
– The hand – to provide intrigue
– The window – to provide the framing
– The awning – to provide protection from the main light source and to provide the right viewpoint
– The 90mm lens – to provide touch-ability.

Ralph Gibson’s books invite us to share his stories or preferably to make up our own, and the restrictions of the book’s format, is like a private viewing of his work.
Max is intrigued at how he can make ‘still life’ objects act like motifs in an erotic tale and take on a special luminosity.
Adam Weinberg – Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Adam sees Ralph Gibson’s purpose as taking us on a journey of ‘Seeing’ by the arrangement of photographs on the page. Their desecrate positioning allows the viewer to study them singularly or together so that they migrate and mingle in both time and space to trigger experience and memory.

Miles Barth – Curator of archives and collections at the International centre of Photography.
For Miles, it is his uniqueness coupled with the visual impact of his photographs that he feels defines Ralph Gibson’s work. His photo books are his ‘modus operandi’ and his high contrast, abstract, and his use of ordinary object are his fingerprints. Miles comments on the way he creates his books which consist of both his old and new works, but are somehow timeless and totally relevant to his topic – i.e. His point of departure.

A.D. Coleman – Photography Critic at the New York Observer
For Coleman, Ralph Gibson’s work is all about the personal interpretation of a story through his photo books. As Diane Arabus said ‘ A photo is a secret – the more it tells you the less you know.’

Corey Keller – Curator Assistant in the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Corey comments at length on Ralph Gibson’s sty;e which in some sense evades classification through its abstract realism. Corey feels his style has echoes of the 1920 ‘New Objectivist” movement, but with a modernist twist. His range of pictures transform the ordinary to the monumental, through the use of aesthetics, beauty and sensuality that transform the subject.
He remarks on the similarity and differences between Edward Weston and Ralph Gibson, and concludes that Weston is about the ‘Thingness’ of an object, and that Gibson is about ‘Infusing Mystery’ of the object.
Corey especially likes the diptychs and commented on one of them that – natural light, caresses and rakes the surface, blurring the distinction between stone and human skin. For him the books control the order of view and their sequence. It’s structure is apparent whether the viewer flicks through the book or studies each page. They pictures create a visual ‘dreamlike and cinematic’ rhythm through their magical juxtaposition of common objects and the relationship between the space on the page, their size and orientation.
Finally, Corey focuses on Ralph Gibson’s traditional approach of the Leica, the use of high contrast natural light, his dedication to the printing processes, his books and most importantly his ‘Point of Departure’. This solid core of traditional skills has meant that he has been able to constantly evolve his themes and subject areas so that his works looks fresh, familiar but with the same evocative responses. – (my observation).
Raymond W Merritt – an attorney in New York and a member of the Photography Committee at the Whitney Museum of America.
Raymond makes the point that how we see a Ralph Gibson photograph will depend on our mood, and the time we spend looking at it. Its rhythms can change with tone and experience and hence we can see the picture anew many times. He reinforces the point that Ralph Gibson’s pictures have a musical rhythm and that their meaning is subject to personal interpretation. Raymond also used the roman word ‘Usufruct’ – the temporary right to enjoy the thing possessed by another – to describe Gibson’s pictures and the way he allows the viewer to extract the objects evocativeness.

Max Blagg – a Poet living in New York
Max make the great observation that Ralph Gibson knows where light comes from and that his pictures ‘send a shiver that strums the optic nerve’
Burt Wolf – International Journalist.
Burt reasons that Ralph Gibson is able to bring out ‘life’s duality’ in his photographs with the optical halves that he creates in his books. He cites some of these as being:-
light from dark, dormant to growing, death to resurrection, etc.
and comments on Gibson’s ability to make the discordant become concordant and harmonious – the musical connection again.

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At a practical level, a good photograph is more about being in the right place at the right time and knowing what to take then the type of camera, skill and technique. My ambition is to show how anyone with a camera can produce great photographs when they visit London.

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