Oceanscapes – One View – Ten Years by Renate Aller
Essays by Richard B. Woodward and Dr. Petra Roettig
An interview with the artist by Jasmin Seck
Radius Books, 2010
Review by Lauren Greenwald
Renate Aller’s first book, Oceanscapes – One View – Ten Years, tackles the endless horizontal space of the Atlantic Ocean. The series of photographs, all taken from the same vantage point on Westhampton Beach, located on the southern shore of Long Island, present recurring views of this eastern horizon; the mystical and changeable line where ocean meets sky.
The book is elegantly straightforward; it opens with four dramatic full page color images before the opening essay by critic Richard B. Woodward. He discusses a polarization within the discipline of photography between artists who discover and those who fabricate their images, and then places Aller in a third category, a compelling combination of both. The German-born artist began the project in 1999 after moving to New York, and for the last decade has continually developed the idea, photographing the same view in all hours and weather from the back of her home. The book is a mangeable 10 x 13 inches while still conveying the full impact of Aller’s large scale photographs. The printing, done in Germany, is absolutely sumptuous. The main body of the book presents 36 additional oceanscapes, some quietly meditative abstractions of blocks of color and others as violent and volatile as the body of water depicted.
These oceanscapes are blissfully devoid of human elements, focusing only on the sky, the clouds, the surface of the ocean, and the horizon. Some images juxtapose a roiling sea with a putty-colored sky, while others depict a calm, metallic surface reflecting millions of points of light under a glowing pastel band. The horizon moves up and down in the picture plane as one progresses through the photographs, its placement seemingly dictated by the light and color and tone of the moment. Aller manages to capture breathtakingly unique moments; freezing a view that will never come again, reminding the viewer of the ephemeral nature of the landscape and the elements. The images are merely numbered; any identifying information such as date and time of day is omitted. The viewer is left only to gaze at the temporal succession of landscapes and the dancing horizon.
There is for some of us the irresistible pull of ocean and the horizon line; we can look upon it endlessly, as if trying to divine what lies just beyond our view, past the curve of the earth. Artists have long explored the contemplation of landscape and the subjective, emotional responses of the individual. In the closing interview with Jasmin Seck, Aller cites German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s The Monk by the Sea as partial inspiration, in which she removes the lone figure staring out to sea and places the viewer of her own pieces in the position of spectator. Inevitable comparisons have been made of Aller’s Oceanscapes to Gerhard Richter’s Seascapes paintings from the early 1970’s as well as Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Seascapes, but Aller succeeds in creating her own symphony of moments and moods, a gorgeous meditation on environment, emotion, desire, and time. This book is one to buy and keep revisiting over and over.
Lauren Greenwald is an Albuquerque, NM based artist.
To view Lauren’s work, please visit her website.