New York

Roe Ethridge

For his recent book Rockaway, NY (2007), Roe Ethridge exploited its namesake place as theme and organizational principle. With customary relish, he slotted images—actually taken in places as far-flung as Mumbai, St. Barts, and Cornwall, England, despite the volume’s doggedly all-American title—of coolly nostalgic boardwalks, surf, and side streets next to a jaunty double vision of Santa Claus, a gamely nautical self-portrait, and an oddly affecting shot of a dead shark. A sort of one-man game of exquisite corpse, the photographs’ interrelations become, literally, more than the sum of their parts in Ethridge’s books and installations alike. But for “Rockaway Redux” at Andrew Kreps, a show of fifteen large-scale C-prints, which built quite explicitly on the earlier project, the process ran the risk of devolution into a foregone game of solitaire. Indeed, in making such an intuitive casting a replicable strategy—i.e., here a studio portrait, there a still life—the question became whether the results would end up reading as too forced or facile. To Ethridge’s credit, even as the show skirted such total redundancy (redux as potential superfluity), it avoided these pitfalls while elevating them to the status of metanarrative.

So in the judicious hang, a picture showing a scrim of netting taken from a baby’s bath, Teddy Bears, 2008, riffed on its neighbor, Cappy (Mug Shot), 2008, an obscenely intimate crop of a clown sporting a bulbous nose, heart-shaped lips, and ruddy cheeks, all crowned by a maritime hat and set off by a star-spangled ensemble of red turtleneck, blue-and-white-striped shirt, and flag-patterned suspenders. Originally shot for Vice magazine, Cappy, like Jake with Wetsuit, 2008, which was also meant for that publication (it was one of a number of images Ethridge composed for a wintertime surf story), blurred the boundaries between the commercial and, well, the differently commercial. Then came Sunset #3, 2008, a glowing solar orb falling out of frame beneath striations of gold-flecked clouds; Dust Cover (Cyan), 2008, a colored field whose blankness suggests a horizon; Beach Scene (Louis Féraud), 2008, a still life of accumulated stuff—shells, a silk dress, and cigarette butts; Rockaway (Wave), 2008, a solemn vision of a wave breaking before an empty public bench; Oysters, 2005, a close-up of mollusks glistening in their shells; Myla with Column, 2008, a pinup of a model with bobbed raven hair and juicy lips posing nude beside a plaster column prop; and so on.

Regarding Ethridge’s project and the networks it discloses, Kate Bush wrote in these pages: “As technically adept as a commercial photographer yet as thoughtful as a Conceptualist about photography’s role and meaning in the modern world, Ethridge believes the ubiquity of the photograph and the instantaneity of its transmission and reception in this age of increasing ‘ecstatic communication’ is to be embraced rather than mourned.” Seeming to take up another kind of proposition for transparency, Ethridge made this show’s press release a kind of “Dear Diary” letter that detailed his sources and their circumstances of production as well as his thoughts about the Rockaways—namely that the region is personal (he lives there), but also that it is somehow, for him and ostensibly the rest of us, too, a harbinger of an end that photography can neither compensate for nor ultimately arrest: “After I saw those images of projected sea levels with a big chunk of long island and NYC under water,” Ethridge writes, “I started thinking of Rockaway as a place that would disappear. For me it is becoming relic.”

Suzanne Hudson