Sunday, January 22, 2012

Judith Joy Ross, The Devil Today and Reading to Dogs @ Pace / Macgill Gallery

I hate to say it, but I just don’t like the new Judith Joy Ross show. I have the utmost respect for her as a photographer, and short of An-My Le, I think she is easily the most overlooked photographer of the last twenty years (why neither of them has had a large New York museum show is beyond me). But Ross’s work has made some dramatic and subtle changes of late. On the dramatic side, her pictures are now in color, and like most black and white photographers, her first serious foray into color is just okay, nothing cringe worthy but nothing transformative about the color either.

The subtler changes are a little more disheartening. There is a happiness to the work, which might mean wonderful things for Ross as a person, but for her photographs of children, the happiness pushes the images into a rather saccharine world of pictures your parents might make if they were good with a large format camera. In the past, her pictures of children hinged on the fact that even when the children were adorable or happy, there was an emotional complexity that always carried a certain level of sadness. That sadness is now gone form the pictures and replaced by a rainbow of color and accompanying good feelings.

The photographs of kids and kids with animals are paired with a body of work featuring local governments sitting in meeting rooms and protesters on small town streets. The work is a nice microcosm of national events; showing things that touch us all, as in the Tea Party’s influence in recent congressional elections, which often began in these small towns as small protests of local issues. But photographically, the images are dry and struggle under the weight of a large format camera (or in the least the eye of a large format photographer). Ross’s small book of similar work done to raise funds for the anti-war movement was wonderful, its small scale and humble repetitive portraits of protesters of all backgrounds endearing and moving. But on a bigger scale, the simplicity and repetition start to drain the work of any greater impact. Writing this does make me sad and as if I might just be a little dead inside. I think I might just take a bath and curl up with Ross’s MoMA book.

Through Jan. 28th


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