Josh Brand, Bianca Walking, 2011, color photograph, 6 x 4".

Josh Brand, Bianca Walking, 2011, color photograph, 6 x 4".

Josh Brand

Herald St

Josh Brand, Bianca Walking, 2011, color photograph, 6 x 4".

Josh Brand’s solo exhibition “Nature” was striking for its comparisons of opposing qualities—black and white, nature and city, large and small. Numerous photographic works were uniformly hung along the walls of the gallery like strings of punctuation marks, and as his subject matter was on the whole sedate, they collectively instilled a sense of contemplative reflection among those viewing them. The exhibition comprised unique palm-size black-and-white C-prints, alongside several larger photographs and works made using hand-manipulated photographic paper. The subject of all these works was, in one way or another, nature in a domestic setting.

This show signaled a definite departure for Brand. While a few works, including Figurative Shape (all works 2011), were reminiscent of his earlier photographs, such as those included in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, his monochromatic palette and manipulations with dye and ink now suggest a confident step forward in the control he exercises over his materials in the name of expressivity. His crude handworking of some of the photographs obliterates the images beneath—String Picture, for example, hides the identity of ambiguous rectangular forms below its inky surface. These coffee-black pictures are, in a sense, the nocturnal response to his smaller, naturally lit shots, and through their juxtaposition he effectively asks the viewer to look for pictorial content in the murky density of the former. Other untitled works are based entirely on the application of ink to photographic paper. Void of imagery, these works simultaneously contain the floods of monochromatic ink inside their edges and unpack outward in a dialogue that underscores the freedom of expressive brushwork.

Houseplants stand proud in a number of works. Plants and Window, Mandradjieff Plants, and several works titled Painted Plant all show their pot-bound namesakes in the domestic realm, revealing complex structural relationships in light and shade, rigid upright stalks and flopping leaves caught by the camera’s mechanical eye. While Brand’s subject matter is botanic, and as such is timeless, the contemporary look of the compositions imbues their palm-tree–like foliage with a humorous personality that renders them simultaneously absurd and immediate. In contrast, portraits such as Ghost on the Floor, Spring Street, Bianca Walking, and Rich Before Practice evoke a melancholic longing for something past while flirting with figurative photography and edging toward possible autobiographical connections. But Brand is entirely conscious of the faux authenticity of black-and-white photography after Barthes and Sontag, and he successfully conflates ideas of production and labor with the nostalgic implications of analogue photography while underlining the works’ immediacy. Those laden with such meaning are presented out of focus, double exposed, or ambiguous of intent. The pairing of “straight” photographs with elaborately hand-tinted pieces suspended them all in flux between reproduction and production. Brand’s interest in the materiality of photography remains clear, and this exhibition pointed to two extremes of engagement with it, from tightly composed photography to the introduction of painterly processes.

Steven Cairns