Photographs by Katrina Umber
July 27 – August 24, 2013
Charlie James Gallery
Show reviewed by Lauren Greenwald
Katrina Umber presents two ongoing bodies of work together in her first solo show, And, currently showing at Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles. The two series, Included Middle and Soft Mirrors, combine to form an engrossing collection of images – taken separately or in conversation with each other, the different series reflect on the notion of the space of the photograph. As the exhibition text explains, “As the title “And” suggests, the space of the photograph is continually proposed in these series as a means of conjunction, a conjoining or combining of images.”
James’ Chinatown gallery is a great, spare, white box space in the best sense of the term. However, instead of one box, he has carved out a few separate exhibition areas in the gallery that allow for better flexibility of installation. This layout is put to good use in this exhibition, with each series occupying the two main spaces on the ground floor, visually separate from but accessible to each other.
Upon entering the gallery, one first views Included Middle, a series of eight large black and white prints. Approximately 27 x 40 inches, they are knockouts, beautifully printed and simply framed in black wood. Each print is comprised of an image pair enlarged from a 35 mm split-frame negative. The pairings are made in camera; while they are two consecutive images, the duration of time between images varies drastically. The images can be the same view separated by mere moments, or scenes differing vastly in subject matter, place, and time. I was particularly drawn to this probing of time, and the expanding and contracting of time as a separation of images and ideas. As Umber writes about these pieces, “This work is a meditation on the materiality and experience of time; reflecting both what the medium does and how I am in the world.” While the subject matter varies, patterns of shadow and light on a wall, a dog perched on a bed paired with a leather jacket in a closet, these images are fairly universal and approachable, but at the same time seem highly personal. This approach reminded me of David Hockney’s photographic works, both his Polaroid composites as well as his lesser-known single images, in the way they push the medium and its physical properties, and are more a communication of an experience, as Hockey called the “experience of looking”, and that shimmering, almost imperceptible difference in perception from moment to moment.
Moving into the rear space in the gallery, the large graphic photographs in the front give way to the small, psychedelically colored pieces from the series Soft Mirrors. For these works, black and white negatives are printed on chromogenic paper and then processed in dyed water, creating pieces that are abstracted and stylized almost beyond recognition. These are beautiful, jewel-like objects that pull the viewer into their many layers of detail. They are all about the physicality of the medium, and by ignoring conventions and reveling in the unpredictability of the materials and processes, Umber creates images that give the viewer even more freedom to experience them. As intimate as the others are grand, these form a strong counterpoint to the other work, and in some cases, are even more alluring in their ambiguity.
In all of this work, there seems to exist a constant tension between the one and the other – between control and abandonment, meditation and reflection, representation and abstraction, truth and fiction, presence and void. This creates a wonderful, multi-layered experience for the viewer.
And is a great show, thoughtful and compelling without pretension, and I highly recommend it to anyone, both photographers and non-photographers, in the Los Angeles area over the next month. I find myself looking forward to seeing these bodies of work again as they evolve over time, and I hope we’ll see more of Katrina Umber’s work soon.
If you go, be sure to also check out a group show on view in the downstairs gallery space, Dwelling in Erasure, curated by Alexandra Wetzel. Works by Michael Henry Hayden, Chris Succo, Christopher Richmond, Matthew Brandt, and Bobbi Wood.
Charlie James Gallery
969 Chung King Road
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Open Wednesday through Saturday, 12-6 pm www.cjamesgallery.com
All images courtesy Charlie James Gallery
Lauren Greenwald lives in Las Cruces, NM and is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Photography at NMSU.
To learn more about Lauren, please visit her website.