For this edition of Fan Mail, Moscow-born, Brooklyn-based Irina Rozovsky has been selected from a group of worthy submissions. If you would like to be considered, please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org a link to your website with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line. One artist is featured each month—the next one could be you!
I was immediately taken with Irina Rozovsky’s current body of work, In Plain Air, a series of photographs taken in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. There is something quietly transcendent about these vignettes – a tranquility rarely evident in public space. I was so pleased to have the chance to ask Rozovsky about these recent photographs and how they relate to her consideration of place.
How do you feel In Plain Air relates to your previous bodies of work? Does it represent a continuation of certain concerns that are central to your practice?
It’s a new way of working for me—I am slowing down, returning again and again to the same location, balancing the vague images I have in mind and the elements of chance encounters. Previously, I was a shoot-on-the-go photographer, akin to a version of Eggleston’s democratic camera. But while what I am looking at and the way I go about it has changed, there is a continuation of interests here. When I was photographing in Israel, I started to think about history and the essence of time that’s encoded in a landscape and permeates the people of the day. I think land has age-long, entrenched rules and its contemporary inhabitants subconsciously follow these rules, entering a cannon of history. In a way, nothing in Israel has changed since it’s beginning. And the park, constructed in the 1860s during the artistic movements of Realism and the visions of democracy, is still running on the same agenda. It’s simple but profound stuff. I think it was Gerry Badger that stated by clearly photographing the present, you can access a larger human realm of time.
I was hoping you could speak a bit about your relationship to your subjects in these photographs. Are these candid moments or are people aware of your presence?
The subjects in my series In Plain Air are strangers I encounter visiting the park. We have not met before and typically do not see each other again, but the photograph coalesces in a kind of shared moment—for a split instant, I am let in on a private reverie. I am drawn to situations where people have carved out a solitary spot in the park to be alone or alone with someone, so very often there is an awkwardness in approaching this intimate space, like coming up to knock on someone’s front door. The pictures are usually made quietly. I don’t tend to say a lot and people seem to accept implicity. It is, after all, a public space, so the rules seem to be the same as on the street. They are not staged, but there is a type of posing that’s going on, since people kind of open themselves for the camera, without breaking from their flow.I usually don’t linger after the photo is made, so as not to impose on or puncture the daydream.
What is the importance of place in your work?
A few years ago, my photography was placeless or worked to undo a solid connection to any specific place. I was traveling a lot and shooting endlessly, but the images never revealed their locations. Instead, they acted as a group alluding to a general pilgrimage, a movement rather than a destination. With One to Nothing and In Plain Air, the photographs are really playing with a sense of place, but still the connection is amorphous. For instance, it’s very important that the pictures are made in this particular park and that viewers understand it is a real park and I would not include photos made elsewhere. Nevertheless, the pictures are not exactly about the park; it’s used as a stage, as a backdrop, as a stand in for a larger human space—the Garden of Eden, America, a mini world. And many times, it looks to me like the photographs were taken in different places—the south, the bayou, a fictional place. So it’s interesting to stretch this idea of place. The photos from Israel work the same way—I’d like the experience of looking at One to Nothing to feel closer to what you already know and feel even if you have never been to Israel. I hope the places in my pictures have this shifting, virtual nature.
In discussing In Plain Air, you have asserted, “the park is seen as a kind of gritty paradise that wraps its everyday patrons in a sublime, redeeming, equalizing light.” How do you feel the quality of this place serves as an equalizing force? Is that part of what drew you to this location?
Yes! I was drawn to this place because it felt like a gritty, imperfect paradise outside of time where most traces of modernity are erased and people are returned to themselves. In the summer, when I started this project, there was bliss in the air, it felt like a sacred place, almost a virtual release from an oppressive life beyond the gates. Outside on the streets, these same people would have seemed intimidating or unapproachable, but within the park, guards are down and everyone seems to be at their very purest and best. A strange perception of reality sets in and it hardly seems credible that so many different races and backgrounds are all in the same place, all around the same lake, lounging on the same grass. Fredrick Olmstead designed this park to be shared by all, as a democratic, common land. To see that goal materialized, and hold true today, in some form, a realized vision, it’s uncanny. Of course, this is idealistic, and ideals are unattainable, but that’s the power of this place; its illusion is that at moments, it seems to come close.
In November 2011, Kehrer Verlag published Rozovsky’s One to Nothing, which was included on Alec Soth’s Top 20 Photobooks of 2011. Selections from In Plain Air will be in the group exhibition “Everything That Rises Must Converge” from March 2 through March 18 at The Current Space in Baltimore, Maryland.