This Week In Photography Books: Meghann Riepenhoff

- - Photography Books

by Jonathan Blaustein

Once upon a time, I wrote about stereotypes and clichés.

It was fun to resurrect phrases left for dead. I did it because good writers avoid them, and I was rebelling against the norm. (Or maybe I just wasn’t a good writer?)

Sometimes, though, we use a phrase just because other people do. We don’t think about where it comes from.

I’m thinking of “bone tired,” because I tried to explain it to my son the other day. Everybody says it, but I suspect only people over 40 really know what it means.

When you reach a certain level of exhaustion, your bones actually ache. At the moment, I’ve got a tingling feeling from my tibias to my clavicles, and there’s not much to be done. (Not much but complain, I suppose.)

I was in Chicago last week for the brilliant Filter Photo Festival, and worked straight through the weekend. Unlike last year, this time I came home with my voice and my wits in tact, but the latter has faded as the week’s gone on.

This year, I again saw nearly 40 portfolios, and will have plenty of work to show you in the coming weeks. I saw remarkable exhibitions, met with so many fascinating people, ate at a steak house with a heap of financial planners, danced to a human beatbox at a late-night afterparty, reviewed countless photographs, and talked for 5 days straight.

I made a few changes compared to last year, beginning with my reviewing approach. After much thought, I decided to temper my advice based upon what I sensed the person could actually hear and handle. Rather than just imposing my will on the situation, which led to a few bad results last year, in 2016, I decided to be patient, listen, and then react.

Not surprisingly, it was a successful tactic. Getting ripped to shreds by one reviewer at FotoFest in March, when I took my own work, reminded me how easy it is to ruin someone’s day with a few poorly chosen words. Or with a confidence bordering on arrogance.

Last year, despite a powerful urge, I failed to eat any Chicago deep dish stuffed pizza. This time, my friend Melanie and I rectified that at Giordano’s, and the results were good enough, but far from awesome. (Yes, Susan Burnstine, you tried to warn me off. I should have listened.)

Finally, in 5 full days in Chicago in 2015, I never made it to Lake Michigan, even though the hotel was only a half a block away. (Lake Shore Drive proved a formidable impediment.)

This year, I asked how to get access, which was insanely easy, and went to check it out on my very first day. There are sandy public beaches, ladders to climb down for a swim, party boats on Sundays, and very blue, luxurious water.

The smell might be different, (since it’s a lake,) but by the look of things, it’s as pretty an urban scene as San Sebastian or San Francisco. I simply can’t overstate how nice it is.

I went for a run there one morning, ambled other days, and then on Sunday, on my way to and from Expo Chicago, I walked along the shore instead of through the city. Great plan!

Unfortunately, it was rather hot on Sunday. And humid too, of course. Very, very humid.

So as I pumped my arms, power-walking like a worker-bee on my way North to grab the subway, the sweat-storm began. I felt the first trickle, didn’t think too much about it, and then it was a flood that overwhelmed my shirt.

I was sweating so much, was soooooo wet and sticky, and right next to me was all that cool, blue water. Taunting me. I wanted to swim so badly, I considered my options.

“Jonathan,” said the lake, “you know you want to jump into me. Come, Jonathan. Give in to your desire. It will feel so good.”

Opting against a full scale assault in my clothes, I bent down, took a knee, reached into the undulating blue, and cupped some water in my hands. I reached back, splashed my neck, and then did it 10 more times.

I’m not a religious Jew, to be honest, but I know we have a tradition of the mikvah. Consecration in water. It felt like that then, a moment I’ll remember for a long time.

The next morning, (I returned home after 1am,) I went down to our stream and repeated the process. Cool water on the same neck.

A journey begins, and it ends.

Speaking of journeys, I wrote about my big trip to Texas earlier this year, and mentioned I met an artist at FotoFest, Meghann Riepenhoff, who was having a moment at the time.

Well, Meghann just sent me an exhibition catalog of her work, “Littoral Drift,” now in its second edition, and of course it was on top of my pile today when I needed to write for you guys. (It’s Thursday. Deadlines await.)

There’s been a trend in California lately of photographic artists making one-of-a-kind objects out of old-school, hands-on processes. Chris McCaw might have gotten it started, but Matthew Brandt, John Chiara, Klea McKenna, and Meghann have all come up with styles that are steeped in the past.

Meghann makes cyanotypes in water. Chemistry mixes with primordial cocktails of salt and sea, resulting in abstracted, beautiful, dreamy objects. In person, they were lovely and textured.

In book form, it’s hard to communicate scale, so I commend the attempt to conjure our imaginations with various installation shots. But mostly this book is about the pleasure of looking.

Like the evanescence of frost, molecular structures under a microscope, or the unmistakable smell of my daughter’s hair, we all know that nature is more powerful than we are. Its aesthetic instincts are nearly always perfect.

I like that this work channels a sense of that visually, as well as existentially. No water, no art. No sloshing, no looking.

As you might imagine, I’ve just hit my limit for today, especially as I’ve got to teach a class all afternoon. (No rest for the weary, I’m afraid.) But this weekend, I’m going to take a big fat nap, and it’s going to be glorious.

Bottom Line: Gorgeous catalog of innovative cyanotypes

To Purchase Littoral Drift Go Here

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Jonathan Blaustein

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