Los Angeles

Ed Janss

Multiples, Inc.

There are good reasons not to review Ed Janss’ show of “In-Water Photography” at Multiples, Inc. The artist is a big real-estate developer/art collector and his photographs are obvious high quality hobby products. Then there’s the title and, finally, there’s the persistent problem of photographs as gallery material; the first two I acknowledge and capriciously overlook, but the third point is worth some explanation.

No fool would maintain that, in theory, photography isn’t, or cannot he, an art as highfalutin as painting or sculpture, printmaking, or composing piano sonatas. Steichen showed us that firsthand with “Photo-Secession” and “291”; then we were able to see beyond the curio quality of Brady and Atget, beyond the heartrending in Lange, Lee, and Evans, and beyond the design in Adams and Weston. But in those prewar days, painting and sculpture hadn’t set up the stupefying expectations of gallery-space articulation now SOP in most places. Photographs which attempt to slug it out by, for example, converting to bulgy-surface demisculpture, look puffed and out of place; photographs which retain the intimacy of standard darkroom proportions look decidedly philatelic on the wall. Add to this the burden of color; color in the photographs comes from nowhere. It’s just there, complicated and pretty, but naggingly artificial, having seeped up out of the delicate chemical layers of the print paper. A framed photograph looks OK as a singular item, in an apartment or office, but hung one after another in a bare white room they look strained.

Janss’ photographs partake, in the Multiples show, of all these drawbacks, but, within their own discipline, they’re lovely. Each is a moderately sized (around eighteen by twenty-four inches) close-up print of marine life—fish, coral, algae, plants, etc. The technical quality is stunning, e.g., a print almost wholly red/brown/orange picks up the floating aqua or sea green with incredible fidelity and beauty. I think the best single picture—out of a bunch which perhaps instructs us a little too much in the “amazing” color schemes of fish, their effectiveness of camouflage, and the rounded glamour of tiny vegetables—is one of a white fish skull against white gravel. But the whole inspiration seems to me better suited to the pages of a connoisseur’s photography magazine.

Peter Plagens