San Francisco

Catherine Wagner

Simon Lowinsky Gallery

Working in deserted industrial districts and suburban construction sites, Catherine Wagner photographs evocative but anonymous subject matter. Distinct from Lewis Baltz, who initially popularized this genre by translating industrial parks into photographic Minimalism, Wagner does not confine herself to either one specific subject or approach. Instead, she displays a photographic eclecticism which fuses mundane imagery with a variety of stylistic concerns more commonly associated with painting.

By using light in a descriptively illusionistic fashion, Wagner transforms banal content into ethereal imagery. Aluminum prefabricated housing emanates a strange luminescence, shimmering in the sun like an extraterrestrial vision. In a Hopperesque composition of telephone pole, sidewalk and building facade, the light renders the objects artificial—the pole emerges as a two-dimensional shape and the sky functions as a backdrop.

Light sometimes creates an obvious trompe I’oeil effect. In one photograph the driveway of a building flattens out so that it appears to be on the same plane as the building itself, a curious spatial distortion. Through manipulation of light and silver tones in the image, the photographer turns real objects into a suprareality, often paralleling the attitudes of the photo-realist painters. However, Wagner deliberately avoids the photo-realist’s satiric cultural iconography, opting instead for a personal surrealism that historically and thematically relates more closely to de Chirico.

Shunning chiaroscuro lighting and exaggerated perspectives, the usual romantic devices in photography, Wagner produces a romantic aura by instigating time/space displacement. While her work is technically well crafted and rich in detail in the straight photographic tradition, her handling of the subject is unique. Owing to the calculated absence of time delineation, the locales of her pictures take on a deliberate universality and additive significance. Unlike the California visionary painters who seem to have a proclivity for studied innocence or post-LSD imagery, Wagner investigates the same sensibility through subject matter which would seem distinctly unrelated to this concern. However, the ability to alter the common into a compelling and singular image is what gives her photographs their character. Wagner draws from the traditions of both painting and photography, fashioning works that are formally complex, photographically well made and philosophically her own.

Hal Fischer