Thursday, July 29, 2010

REVIEW: Henry Steiner at ArtSpace in Tunbridge

by Justine Sinclair

Good photography can make the most mundane place or situation vibrate with transcendence, transforming it into art. Sometimes photography can be so manipulated digitally that it loses its authenticity and becomes artificial and 'artistic'. But Henry Steiner has been photographing the real word with authenticity for the last six decades. In an exhibit entitled Around the World in Eighty Years at ArtSpace (in the Tunbridge Library), Steiner gives us a glimpse of the world he has traveled, always the real world, raw and alive. His work is documentary and personal, and these intimate photogrsphs help us know the world. Camels in the Gobi desert. Early snow on a Tunbridge barn. Child in a ghetto, Jamaica.

A photographer walks the thin line between observation and intrusion. In his photograph, Observant villagers in India, Steiner shows 2 old men sitting on their haunches. They stare at Steiner; Steiner stares at them. What are they thinking? How does the photographer maneuver his or her way into a world of backstreets and hidden alleyways? In another photograph, Audience dressed in their finery in Bhutan, even though there are over 100 people crammed together on the ground, no one appears to be conversing, nor are they focused forward on anything in particular. What are they doing? Why are they all dressed up? They could have been sitting in that one spot for hours, having run out of things to say to one another. In Family business in Bolivia, a mother and her young child, no more than 2 years old, sit beside straw hats piled on the ground for sale. What is the little boy or girl doing with that old piece of cloth? Collecting money?

In Lady in the dark an old woman stands in a stone doorway in Crete. She is dressed in black against a backround of black which affords the viewer only her head and hand, weather worn and lined. And yet, she is posing for this foreign man who wants her to pose for him. Perhaps she feels beautiful in his lens. She is.

Another is a photograph of a weathered boat at an abandoned British whaling station in Antartica, looking like an Andrew Wyeth painting. A Canadian waterfall looks like drapes of iridescent silk. A pond in Bellagio, Italy an impressionist painting. Icebergs, turquoise granite.

In the last photograph are 2 shadows wearing broad hats at the Luxor Station beside train tracks: the photographer and his wife. It is hot and dusty; there are probably flies hovering around his lens. They are at the end of an exhausting trip, "mere shadows of their former selves." In order to give his photographs of the world to the world, he must walk many a dusty mile.

Thank you Henry Steiner, professor emeritus at Harvard Law school, resident of Tunbridge, explorer and chronicler of human rights, for these amazing photographs, for hovering in the shadows.

A must see exhibit at ArtSpace, Tunbridge Libray, curated by Marsha Higgins. The show runs until September 6, 2010. Hours: Mon & Wed, 3 - 8, Fri, 3 - 6; Sat, 10 - 4 and Sun, 11:30-1:30. RT 100, 802.889.9404