New York

Sally Gall

Julie Saul Gallery

Sally Gall’s idyllic, gelatin silver-print landscapes record the natural world with precision, but not without artifice: they are less documents of place than romantic evocations of a world untouched by man. By recreating the landscape through carefully composed black and white images and by selectively diffusing the light during the printing process, the artist presents a world that is heartbreakingly beautiful, but at the same time completely fabricated—reminding us gently, before we grow too sentimental, that there is really no such thing as natural beauty.

Each photograph is startlingly sensual, seductive; but each has been noticeably enhanced by the artist’s touch, representing not just a particular place at a particular moment in time, but a moment of individual yearning. Nature takes on a heightened realism: these works simultaneously freeze a moment in time and suggest, through pattern and composition, the way that the pictured scene might change. Unlike the photographs of Ansel Adams, these are not solid or monumental; all suggest movement and flux, and all have something to do with water. They are so lushly material as to be almost sexual, full of shapes and textures: an exploding wave; a liquid triangle amidst a brushy landscape; arching palm trees; jungle vines draping into pools.

These photographs are in fact so heavily atmospheric that the very air seems fraught with emotional tension. Every sky glowers, creates a feeling of torpor, as if one were waiting for a thunderstorm. At the same time, the viewer is aware that this thunderstorm atmosphere comes as much from the manipulation of the medium and formal properties of composition as it does from recording a “natural” phenomenon—the landscape becomes a trembling mirage, is infused with an intriguing sort of neurosis.

Like mirages these works capture your imagination, yet take you nowhere. They are quietly puzzling, the way the ocean can be, and like the ocean they serve as a catalyst for reverie. Their lines, reflections, refractions, and shadows are quietly hypnotic, so much so that as you stand before them you literally feel yourself travelling through the landscape, then feel that landscape giving way to a sort of white space where the mind can simply drift. In that way the pictures seduce the spectator, just as devotional paintings do: you actually travel into the world of the photograph and live there for a while, sinking into the rich textures and thrillingly sensual atmosphere. Like the ocean, they are a place for retreat into secular prayer.

Justin Spring