Driving through the Catskill mountains past Kingston in spring you are surrounded by a variation of greens provided by the different trees and bushes scattered around. In the gardens of charming hill side houses people clean the last branches, take out the summer furniture, light a barbecue here and there. On my way to Woodstock, a typical hippie village in upstate NY. Not to be confused with the famous festival that took place on a nearby farmland in the sixties. Woodstock is full of new age stores, Dharma bums and people wearing peace sign shirts. Keeping that revolutionary spirit alive for sure, “you know what I’m sayin?”
I’m in upstate NY for three months now and always scan the local newspapers for various activities in the small towns Red Hook, Rhinebeck, Tivoli and such. In the Almanac Weekly I came across an announcement on Jeff Jacobson’s show at the Center for Photography.
The exhibition is titled “The last roll”, Jacobson’s farewell to his beloved Kodachrome film that Kodak stopped producing some years ago.
Dreamlike, dark, vague
Twelve pictures are put up in the gallery, all shot in the Catskill area around his house when Jacobson was recovering from the chemotherapy he underwent to fight lymphoma in 2005.
The photo’s are dreamlike, dark, vague. A dog facing left in the snow shot through a window frame, a black figure in the blueish light of a winter evening. The dog seems to anticipate something, someone entering the driveway? Another picture: A girl in a wooden chair on a lawn, Anne Frank like posture, staring at her knees, reading, drawing, writing? Actually, you don’t really want to know. I could ask Jacobson, who’s standing right next to me, but I don’t want to know, I want to keep the impression to myself. Or dream away with the deer shot from a car, running past the road. Imagine myself standing between the hills full of broken white trees in another frame. David Lynch, Blue Velvet, that’s the eerie feeling I get watching these prints.
There’s two photo’s that seem double exposed. One is a kid on a climbing wall covered with what seems are rhododendrons, the climbing wall itself is overshadowed by a yellow sail, a roof like structure. The other, bigger print, is divided into the in- and exterior of a motel. On the inside a bed with a colored blanked over it, on the outside a snowy street with a parked pickup truck and a figure walking past. Because of the black color of the figure and the moment it is frozen in time I immediately think of the famous picture of a Big Foot. I ask Jacobson if these are double exposed, but he answers that they’re both taken trough a window, reflecting in and outside. I later learn, during the artist talk, that he never uses photoshop or other “modern” tricks.
The cherry on the pie during my visit: Jacobson being interviewed by his son, filmmaker Henry Jacobson. During the talk, which fills the main room of the Center completely, his son flips through slides of his dad’s work, commenting and contemplating on the photo’s seen at the large projector screen. Jacobson starts by telling he grew up as a jewish kid in Ohio. So he was a insider in his own community but, being Jewish, an outsider in Ohio itself. After a career in law he started to work for various magazines such as Life, Fortune and NYT magazine. According to Jacobson some editors really kept him alive with the jobs they gave him and therefor supported him in doing his own, more artistic, work as well.
The talk lingers beautifully between personal en professional with Jacobson telling about his feelings as a father. Life is not so simple anymore when you become a parent, he says. After his best friend and dad dies he decides to move to LA with his son and feels very lonely there. During this part of the talk he shows one of his favorite pictures: His dad with small Henry in his arms, standing in the ocean, cheerfully, brave, two generations clung together.
On a technical note Jacobson explains his earlier problems with digital photography. Taking digital photo’s, the time between the shot and seeing the result is very short. Jacobson believes that the longer it takes before you see what you shot, the better it is because you cannot clearly remember anymore what the situation was when you took it.
After his chemo Jacobson decided to stop doing commissioned work. His concern about the wellbeing of the planet and the freedom to shoot whatever he likes, after shooting around the world, became his main goal. His work was also intertwined with the Kodachrome films that he used, so canceling the film production was like an artistic passing away to him. After facing physical mortality in 2004, three years later he had to let go off the professional material he worked with for decades as well. But Jacobson is over that now and it felt as a relief to let go. He started shooting with a Leica 10 mega pixel camera….
If you happen to visit the upstate region of New York state, make sure you pay a visit to the Center for Photography at Woodstock. Jacobson photo’s are beautifully simple, mysterious and leave the spectator with an unearthly feeling of time standing still and passing by at the same time. The artist talk will be available online in the near future.
But that’s not all:
Also on display in the Center is a selection by Kira Pollack, the director of photography of Time magazine. That’s what I like about the US: you don’t have to go to a big city to find well curated art shows, there could be a hidden gem in any small town. Most notable in Pollack’s selection are the black and white portraits of Gary Grenell – who took photo’s of the visitors of Green Lake in Seattle – and the color portraits of Ilona Szwarc. She photographed girls with their American Girl dolls that are supposed to look just like their little owners. A girl on a horse with her plastic avatar next to her standing in the grass of her parents huge mansion. Another next to a silver barbecue, dressed as a cheerleader flexing her muscles, her small doppelgänger balancing on the fence of the balcony. Both Szwarrc’s and Grenell’s work resonate a type of melancholic vibe that is very common in small town communities, especially with teens.
Jeff Jacobson: The Last Roll
Photography Now exhibition juried by Kira Pollack, Director of Photography at TIME
Both on view till June 16
Center for Photography at Woodstock
59 Tinkerstreet, Woodstock, NY
Wednesday-Sunday, from 12 to 5pm year-round