(guest blog post by Charles Elliott) Armen and I had the pleasure this week of viewing Judith Joy Ross’ latest exhibition of photographs at Pace/MacGill Gallery, “The Devil Today and Reading to Dogs”, her first exhibition of works in color, presenting thirteen large-scale archival pigment ink prints. For some accustomed to Ross’ black and white portraiture, this work will seem at first to be a significant departure. Yet, the work familiarly evinces Ross’ sensitivity to the human condition and her keen focus on current social and political concerns. In this series of works, we see children at play in a dappled sunlit wooded setting of a wildlife rehabilitation center (“Aark Foundation”) and photographs depicting close bonds between people and animals. These photographs are exhibited with images of protestors opposing hydraulic fracturing and projects such as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and the proposed construction of electric transmission lines cutting through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
While this may be Judith Ross’ first foray into color photography, the use of color serves her well here, bringing a vivid elemental immediacy appropriate for the urgent concerns within her point of view.
“Reading to Dogs” explores human relationships with nature: a young boy, his face alight with the joy and pride of holding in his arms a rabbit swaddled as though an infant; a young woman face to face with an alpaca, her hands lightly embracing the alpaca’s long neck in a loving gesture; a farming family in rural Pennsylvania, with a woman lying down, embracing a piglet, her thighs mud-caked, embedded in the earthen natural world.
“The Devil Today”, with its imagery of citizen activists, depicts the all-too-few voices of protest against the most current versions of exploitation and spoliation of natural resources. In one image, we see Lehigh-Pocono Committee of Concern (LEPOCO) protestors lined up along a roadway in a location that, at first glance, is seemingly remote. A small detail – a sign pointing to the location of a “Governor’s Event” – reveal the protestors to be precisely positioned to address a very specific audience: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, elected with the help of campaign contributions from supporters of the state’s burgeoning natural gas industry. In another, we see the calm courage of a young woman waiting to speak to the Delaware River Basin Commission in opposition to water withdrawal permits for “hydrofracking.”
“The Devil Today” and “Reading to Dogs” might be seen as two separate bodies of work. Indeed, they are explicitly not juxtaposed, but exhibited separately within Pace/MacGill’s intimate gallery space. Yet the exhibition presents a single coherent vision. Its emotional power is gathered from the potent poignancy which the works on each side of the gallery lend to the other: on one side, the protesting voices that seek to protect the increasingly fragile web of connections between people and the natural world, visually described with such sensitivity in the other. In one, we see those who stand against — in Gary Snyder’s clear-eyed poetic phrase — “the work of wrecking the world” and in the other, what we stand to lose.
Exhibition at Pace/MacGill Gallery, 32 E. 57th Street, New York, NY, through January 28, 2012.