New York

James Newberry

Light Gallery

A different use of the photograph to extend a basically pictorial sensibility can be seen in James Newberry’s work. There is a Surrealistic drama to his depictions of tiny nude women threatened by the fantastical landscapes of giant boulders or enormous chunks of driftwood which surround them. Yet it is one’s knowledge that these are photographs rather than paintings which makes them so disturbing. Despite one’s realization that manipulation of the focal angle can create distortions in appearances, one still believes in the truth of the photograph. And it is this implicit acceptance of the photograph’s facticity which accentuates the disjunction caused by the distortions in scale between figure and environment in Newberry’s works. Newberry ensures that one does, in fact, focus on the figure by bringing out the whiteness of the skin in contrast to the darker tonalities of the surroundings. The skin, in turn, is juxtaposed with the rough textures of the wooden planks, scaly rocks or scorched earth around it—a mannerist device to jolt one’s sensibilities. The theatrical posing of the nudes, often in stagey hyperbole, is yet another technique used to pinpoint the unnaturalness of “straight” photography. What Newberry seems to be playing with is one’s assumption of truth in the purely photographic image. By extending this into the narrative of the pictorial, given in his depiction of a figure in a scene, he weaves a fiction out of fact.

Susan Heinemann