Photographs that write with light

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Rose Marasco, from My Art Exhibition: Abandoned Works of Art from Closet, Finland (2017-2019), 20×24 inch (full view), 10×12 inch (canvas pieces), archival giclee print (all images courtesy of the artist)

PORTLAND, Maine – About five years ago I was on my way to Rockland, Maine to give a talk and decided to stop in Portland to visit the Portland Museum of Art. I was motivated to go after seeing on the museum’s website a staged photograph in which a black and white montage of different sections of a young woman’s face was projected onto the adjacent walls of a white room. with a fireplace, a bookcase and a table. with a light box on it. The museum’s press release deepened my curiosity:

Throughout his career, [Rose] Marasco remained indifferent to genres such as documentary, landscape and portraiture. Instead, she constantly exploited the concepts of framing, point of view, and orientation to create images that have a complex relationship to the everyday picture of the world.

Here is a photographer who made scenes, and who seemed to have no particular style. You could say that Rose Marasco was doing all that John Szarkowski, who was the longtime cinematographer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1962-1991) and one of Diane Arbus’s early champions, William Eggleston and Gary Winogrand, have probably ignored it. I wasn’t going to miss it.

Rose Marasco, My Art Exhibition: Abandoned Works of Art from Closet, Finland (2017-2019), installation view, 20 x 24 in (full view), 10 x 12 in (pieces on canvas), archival giclee prints

I was not disappointed and ended up seeing again Rose Marasco: index. Soon after, we met briefly and started an email correspondence. Recently, when curator and artist Dan Mills invited me to Bates College to be part of a panel on photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-1972), whose work also did not match Szarkowski’s aesthetic, I contacted Rose and we made plans to meet. in downtown Portland, where she has lived for many years.

After seeing her screenings and editing, I wondered what she was doing since I visited her exhibition. After I returned to New York City, I started browsing my catalogs of her work and realized I had missed an obvious connection – she consciously deconstructs the word “photography” in her montages and diary photos.

Literally, the word photography is derived from the meeting of two words, the Greek Pictures (light) and graphic (design). Hercule Florence (1804-1879), a French painter and inventor living in Brazil, used the word “photography” in his diary in 1833, a few years before the English scientist Sir John Hershel used the English word “photograph” in his present – famous description from 1839, “image obtained by photography”. Florence and Hershel heard an image obtained by writing with light, but the word “photograph” could be analyzed differently; its meaning was not, as they say, frozen in stone.

Rose Marasco, from My Art Exhibition: Abandoned Works of Art from Closet, Finland (2017-2019), 20 x 24 in (full view), 10 x 12 in (pieces on canvas), Archival Giclee Print

In his series Household items Marasco made paintings containing pages from a woman’s diary and a familiar object. In “Egg Diary” (1994), the journal is open until Friday-Saturday January 14 and 15, 1921. Above the open pages, we see a brown egg. On the right page, towards the middle, we read: “Dorothy Clark came to buy an egg. »I was interested in the photographs of Household items for many reasons, including the light they shed on the lives of women in rural America at the turn of the 20th century. What initially didn’t occur to me was that the photograph was generated by the newspaper page and the word “egg”.

When I first wrote about Marasco’s work, I hadn’t paid much attention to his keen interest in the relationship between image and writing. However, the juxtaposition or superposition of word and image is a constant concern that she continues to explore in different bodies of work and in new ways.

Rose Marasco, “Mimic No. 6 (from a series of 7)” (2019), archival giclee print, 12 x 23 inches.

Marasco lives in a Greek Revival style house built in 1837 by Abel Grover. She bought the house at auction in 2003 and completely restored it, while researching its history and former occupants. As she told me about the house during my visit, and the various objects (82 in all) that she found while renovating it, she showed me different rooms and works. I learned that she is currently working on a project, Keep the house, which combines photography and prose and relates to where she lives. On her website, she describes:

It’s a bit of a memoir, an overview of the history of the house and the former occupants, several portfolios of my photographs, my text passages on some of the objects, and my thoughts on photography (invented at the same time as the house was built), its history, its importance and the cultural changes that surround it in our daily life.

Time and history are recurring subjects of Marasco. In “Photomontage” (1981-82), a road sign reading “One Hour Parking” divides the horizontal format into two unequal areas. The parking sign belongs to the roadway on the left, while on the right is a divided freeway that curves at the same angle as the roadway. Made from two of her photographs, which she cut out and carefully stitched together along the seam provided by the traffic sign, Marasco photographs the montage, making it a new, physically cohesive work of art. In this and other related works, the viewer can feel the inevitability of change and the passage of time: a road becomes a multi-lane highway. Different views of the facade of a building echo memories in the mind’s eye. How to remember what we remember?

Rose Marasco, “Mimic No. 4 (from a series of 7)” (2019), archival giclee print, 12 x 23 inches.

During the afternoon, Marasco showed me the work of three series, My art exhibition, The easel, and imitates. It seems to me that she often uses what is at hand – works of art left in a cupboard by an unknown maker, which she puts on the back of small canvases bought in stores; projections on the wall behind an easel and a broom she found during a residency; black-and-white photographs of the Maine landscape paired with identical “designs” made from objects (hairpins, clothespins, and pottery shards) she found in her home.

There is something sharp and touching in the work of My art exhibition, which was performed at the artist residency Arteles in Finland, about two hours north of Helsinki. As in her diary photographs of women, she let circumstances define her project, which in this case meant using what she had found at the residence for her various projects. In an email regarding the photographs of My art exhibition, she said to me: “There was a large closet [at Arteles] with a lot of scraps of stuff and materials we might have and some artwork that others left behind.

In a number of her photographs, she affixed the works, mostly on paper, to the backs of prefabricated canvases and mounted them on the cupboard doors where she presumably found them. She projected a black-and-white image of a woodcut of a snowy field, with a bare birch in the left foreground, onto a photograph. The image, taken from a found work of art, adds an unexpected element that invites interpretation.

Rose Marasco, from My Art Exhibition: Abandoned Works of Art from Closet, Finland (2017-2019), 20 x 24 in (full view), 10 x 12 in (pieces on canvas), Archival Giclee Print

Works of art include pencil drawings, patterns made in liquid mediums, such as ink, and another group made with spray paint. It reminded me of Richard Tuttle’s watercolors, especially those that include a pattern. Marasco’s framing changes our outlook on them; something that has been abandoned becomes a work of art commemorated by photography.

In another work, Mimicry, which will be presented in his book, Keeping lodge, Marasco photographed the landscape of Maine with her Rolleiflex, which she had not done since the 1980s. She was inspired for this by a trip to Japan, where she photographed the landscape. She juxtaposed the landscapes of Maine with another photograph. The second photograph, in which she made a “drawing” from objects found in her house, echoes the linear elements and outlines of the first photograph. The “drawing” becomes an abstract ideogram of the landscape. The works combine photo (particles of light) and graph (lines of writing). The juxtaposition opens up a speculative space, where history, anonymity, language, preservation, loss and the passage of time are collapsed into a symbol to be deciphered and contemplated – with traces of tenderness, pain and love. beauty to be found everywhere we look.

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