Ron Kohn

Allan Frumkin Gallery

Photography is always most interesting when it accomplishes things which nothing else can do: Ron Kohn is involved with one of photography’s earliest discovered uniquenesses: the camera’s ability to record light. Typically, in painting and sculpture, light is known only by its effect. In contrast, Kohn shows light with a variety of characteristics, and always as a separate substance. He works in the tradition of Aaron Siskind, which allied Moholy Nagy’s formal photogram to the non-.formal concerns of straight shooting. Thus, Kohn’s camera reports light as a substance which coexists with man and object, rather than any nonobjective, space-defying pattern.

When a boy races around a black back yard and flying light squiggles are incised into the photo surface, this is, in addition to a little boy, a product of darkness separate from light. And many of Kohn’s other subjects—ducks, ladies in hair rollers on merry-go-rounds, white silhouetted umbrellas over activity in the city—also tend to become something akin to recipients of light and dark. This gets metaphysical, and it can also lead to overly obvious symbolism, for example, light beams sprouting from a fuzzy Jesus Christ rug, with glib associations to commercial matter versus spiritual radiation.

I was particularly impressed, however, with Toy Ducks. The dime store variety with huge glass eyes and sateen bows around the necks, these characters resembled leftover evidence of some weird plot, with light lines zooming all around them. Kohn’s pictures are often taken at night, with multiple flash and an open shutter on time exposure, so that stark darkness becomes a harsh, display-board backdrop setting off subjects in a troubled, tense, or empty way.

The most fascinating implication of Kohn’s work, of course, is that he documents things around us which we cannot see. His camera sometimes moves strategically to convert light spots into light lines and stasis into motion, emphasizing certain effects which nature presents as nonobjective, non-life-infused physical state. In short, not only does Kohn give birth to light, he gives light a personality. Who knows what curious radiation is crawling from a man’s head to mock his foolish actions? In the end, Kohn’s camera raises just this question: is what we see reality or just a part?

C. L. Morrison