Due to several recent shows on the subject, I have lately been pondering the enduring yet amorphous allure of landscape in photography. Among the exhibitions currently on view, Pictura Gallery’s exhibition of photographs by Adam Thorman and Laura Plageman offers an especially engaging encounter with the genre. Displayed on opposite sides of the bisected space, each artist’s series—Thorman’s What Light Remains in the Absence and Laura Plageman’s Response—exudes an understated sense of grandeur and a deep and nuanced interest in the possibilities of the photographic medium.
Describing his work as “an ode to the weight of light and the presence of absence,” Thorman presents vividly captured, initially straightforward images of land, water, and plant life. Arresting in their pristine clarity and effortless beauty, his photographs reveal a muted ambiguity upon sustained viewing. In one image, massive coastal boulders collide with one another and the sea; the latter belies its own power by foaming quietly at the shore’s edge, while the lined, rough-hewn texture of the rocks recalls the leathery skin of some recumbent beast. The image acquires an undertone of dormant fury, of destructive potential, inspiring in the viewer an uneasy combination of wonder and dread.
Elsewhere, Thorman fuses a deft attunement to texture with a vibrant deployment of color to visceral, quasi-surreal effect. In shoreline vistas, the saturated green of coastal grasses contrasts with the dull gray of sky; water-dwelling plants become tactile in their details through rich gradations of green, earthen brown, and gray. In this way, Thorman conjures a disorienting vision of the natural world; light itself becomes an agent of uncertainty as it reveals the unutterably strange in the apparently familiar.
In fascinating counterpoint to Thorman’s images, Plageman’s photographs hover suggestively between two and three dimensions, playing provocatively with the viewer’s sense of vision and space. In an accompanying project statement, Plageman cites her interest in photographs “both as representations and tangible objects,” and her work certainly registers a richly material presence, often seeming to project itself beyond the photographic frame.
Using a large format view camera and re-photographing prints that she has crumpled, creased, or otherwise manipulated, Plageman crafts images that contain, both literally and figuratively, multiple levels of material and meaning. A restricted palette of greens, browns, and cream, as well as overtly organic subject matter—dense foliage, heavy grasses, unusual tree forms—foregrounds the sense of spatial uncertainty and shifting depth. Plageman’s images essentially hide their altered condition in plain sight, incarnating the ambiguous rapport between seeing and knowing, reality and illusion.
A concentrated yet compelling glimpse of landscape photography today, the exhibition illuminates the inexhaustible formal possibilities of photography and its unique capacity to mine the mysteries of the natural world—provocative proof that medium and subject alike remain rich, untapped terrain.