Poignant Vignettes: Photographic Works by Tracy Longley-Cook and Rachel Girard Reisert

The current exhibition at Collins Gallery in Grand Rapids Community College, features  photographic works by Tracy Longley-Cook and Rachel Girard Reisert. Cook’s contributions are from her series titled “Estremoz”, named after the Portuguese town where she took these photographs. Reisert’s series “Tropism” consists of eight cyanotype triptychs depicting trees.

The exhibition is small, less that twenty works, but the pairing is well-suited. Both series obliquely reference polite Victorian divertissements like illustrated armchair travel books, journaling, or collecting natural specimens. The cyanotype technique has connections to early photography, but Reisert’s candor and allusion to the human body suggest the decidedly practical photographic medium of the X-Ray. Cook demonstrates similar restraint by not focusing her attention on the picturesque setting in which her photos were composed.

Cook’s images are lovely vignettes recording unremarkable details of her immediate surroundings in Estremoz during an artist residency. These are color photographs, but Cook keeps the palette so low-key as to seem nearly monochromatic.  While she indicates that the quality of light was a catalyst for the series, every image features a botanical element like pods, fruit, or vines.

Having read her statement after viewing the photographs, I was not surprised to learn that they were taken while she was abroad.  Travel is a peculiar experience during which one is deprived certain comforts and conveniences, while at the same time acutely aware of the novelty of everything.  There is a sense of this paradox in the series.

Courtyard WindowBlack and White Marble Table, and Knifeillustrate the creative improvisation employed when one lacks certain amenities.  A rock functions as a weight to keep a curtain from incessantly fluttering, and cut fruit is placed directly on the surface of an outdoor table, perhaps for wont of a plate.

The inevitability of departure results in a kind of wistfulness that is evident in many of Cook’s images. The implicit message of Marmelo Tree, is that quince will be fully ripe after we have returned home. Remains documents the shadow of a tree limb on a courtyard wall, upon which is affixed a snail shell. We cannot be certain if the snail has retreated to escape the heat, or has long since expired.

Cook’s series would benefit from being smaller in scale (8”x 10”, instead of 22”x 26”), because the viewer would be required to examine them at a closer range. This physical shift in relationship to the images would proximate the studied observation of minutiae that the artist experienced in her temporary bucolic surroundings.

Reisert Tropism 8

Reisert’s choice of the triptych format instinctively recalls altarpieces, but the history of cyanotype suggests that 19th century botanical studies.  One of the earliest “aesthetic” uses of cyanotype, was employed by illustrator and botanist Anna Atkins.  Her photograms of algae were published in a series of three volumes, the first of which was the earliest commercially published book of photographs (albeit a very limited edition), released months before William Henry Fox Talbot’s, The Pencil of Nature.

Unlike the perfect specimens illustrated in botanical texts, Reisert’s triptychs each feature at least one ailing tree.  Often the trees are denuded of leaves, some are dead, others appear to have a scaly bark condition, and many are wrapped with thick vines that clearly compromise the health of the tree/host.  Tropism #2 shows a denuded trunk, whose exposed flesh reveals the traces of insect or worm borings, the presumed source of its affliction. Tropism #6 and Tropism #8, appear to consist of one continuous image, but closer examination reveals that Reinhart carefully aligned three individual images to appear as one nearly seamless whole, like a prosthetic or graft.

Tropism is the term is used to describe the turning of an organism in response to external stimulus, like sunflowers following the sun.  The trees are responding to external stimulus, just as the body responds to illness.  A similar metaphor is illustrated in Deanna Morse’s animated video installation Skin, which was included in the Frederik Meijer Gardens 2012 ArtPrize exhibitionThe Body Double.

“Cusp: Works by Tracy Longley-Cook and Rachel Girard Reisert”, can be seen through November 8 at Grand Rapids Community College

Collins Gallery is located on the 4th floor in the main building of Grand Rapids Community College, 143 Bostwick Ave NE. Grand Rapids MI, 49503

Gallery hours are Monday-Thursday 10AM-7PM, Friday 12-3PM. Admission is free.

-Tamara Fox

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