December 2007 Archives

Seeing versus Looking


Copyright 1982 The New York Times Company The New York Times
November 28, 1982, Sunday, Late City Final Edition
Section II; New Jersey; Page 40, Column 1; New Jersey Weekly Desk


NEWARK - AT THE City Without Walls gallery here are two photography exhibitions of much more than usual interest. And a few blocks away, at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, is an opportunity to see the recent metal sculpture of Paul Sisko, one of the best-known artists from this area.

The exhibition at City Without Walls will continue through Thursday, and that at the institute through Friday. Of the photographers, Malcolm Ryder is perhaps the most accomplished, although at first glance he seems dedicated to recording the most ordinary and meaningless scenes.

All of his photographs on view here -they are in color - were made in Arlington, Va. Yet, they are remarkably unspecific, so much so that even someone who has spent his entire life in that suburb of Washington would be hard-pressed to recognize his hometown.

These pictures, in fact, could have been taken almost anywhere in the United States, and that is an important aspect of Mr. Ryder's vision.

What he is trying to show us - with conspicuous success, I think - is most apparent in a series of three untitled shots of parked panel trucks.

At first, after noticing the formal skill with which Mr. Ryder selected his images and his well-nigh perfect technique in making the prints, we are at a loss to understand just why he has chosen to record these particular images.

Then we notice the overwhelming blankness of the scene, the vast blue of the sky and the rental-agency markings on some of the trucks, and we begin to suspect the artist of making a point.

Yet, there is no conspicuous message anywhere, no particular beauty or tawdriness. There is just exquisite color, the total absence of human beings and an odd stillness.

Mr. Ryder could have made some trite point about the emptiness of life; however, judging from his other works, he is much too subtle for that. Rather, in the most laconic and specific fashion, he is celebrating the textures and feel of the real, ordinary world around us.

In another example, we see a slightly rusty Dodge Dart parked against a fence on an empty street, an inexplicably moving scene. Again, we see the most ordinary suburban house with flower beds in front

However, Mr. Ryder refuses to emphasize the banality of the scene. In a sense, he is too serious for that; instead, he forces us to bring our own messages to his work, to take our own readings of the reality that he records and we inhabit.

One of the photographs seems to focus on meaningless street signs, another on pruned rose bushes and a child's abandoned toys. The message here is that there is no message, no easy poetry, no sentiment What we do have is a surprising vision from an artist who celebrates things for what they really are and how they actually look.

As we study Mr. Ryder's photographs, we discover that he has renewed our connection with the visual world around us, which is a considerable achievement indeed.

David William Riccardi's black-and-white photographs, which also are on view at City Without Walls, seem less conventional than Mr. Ryder's, both in terms of form and subject matter. Many of them are beachfront scenes of boardwalks and amusement arcades, including some at the Jersey Shore.

Mr. Riccardi is not afraid to experiment with his camera, even to the point of moving it as he takes the photographs or adopting odd points of view. Sometimes this works very well, as in a picture of an overweight, middle-aged woman wearing a rather ugly print dress.

The woman was photographed from the waist down as she walked along a sidewalk. The hem of her skirt is coming loose, with the string hanging from it serving as the focus of the picture.

This detail is telling, and without seeing the woman's face we know something about a lifetime of small failures. Another time, we see a young, poorly dressed couple walking along a boardwalk under threatening skies. Beside them is an even younger girl, perhaps the young woman's sister.

Again, the artist's vision is poignant, and with a single image he bas managed to suggest a world of little hope and closed-off possibilities.

Other photographers have used similar subjects for equivalent ends. Mr. Riccardi is by no means as original as Mr. Ryder; yet, he is a good artist and almost magical in his ability to imbue his images with power.

City Without Walls is at 140 Halsey Street, in downtown Newark-It is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 AM. to 6 P.M. and Saturdays from noon to 4 P.M.

The New York Times, November 28, 1982