The expansive space at Zuccaire Gallery at Stony Brook University cannot be easy to curate. A towering ceiling and broad room gives way along its back wall to an alcove, which in turn leads to a long side gallery. The space is both looming and intimate—allowing for long views, but also begs for close engagement. Gallery director Karen Levitov’s keen eye for how the space can highlight the strengths of an artist’s work is apparent in the current exhibition, Lorna Bieber: Traces.
Lorna Bieber is a photographer in the broadest sense of the world, and her interest clearly lies with the limits of the art form. Working with found photographs and copy machine, Bieber enlarges, alters, and shapes imagery in order to craft artworks that defy easy description or categorization. The large-scale, haunting landscapes are a rumination on the natural world. They beckon the viewer, inviting them to get closer to the scene in order to venture into the world. And when the viewer does, they discover that an apparently simple photograph of a tree turns out to be photographic witchcraft. Some of the images, like “Tree/Tree Trunks,” are silver gelatin prints. By using various layers of photocopies and old photos, Bieber has fashioned a new wholeness out of disparate parts. What seemed a simple tree—and a stunningly beautiful one—from a distance turns out to be a construction of the detritus of our technology.
This is even more pronounced with Bieber’s assemblages. Also large-scale, the repetition of image and form run throughout the different installations. While individual prints that constitute the constructions are all the same size, each one manipulates both scale and the subject’s orientation in order to create entirely new worlds. An image of a flower is aligned to the right in one print, but the same image is turned slightly, moved to the left, and its size minimized, in a neighboring print. The result is a strange familiarity amidst complete disorientation. The piece simply demands that the viewer get close to the collected images and search out correspondences, but in doing so, the viewer becomes wholly immersed in the scene, surrounded by the disordered sameness. It’s marvelous, magical, and surprisingly moving. By challenging the boundaries of what constitutes a “photograph” in these large installations, Bieber immerses the viewer in new possibilities for the photograph’s power to reshape our world. She also ensures that your trip to see the show is more than worth the effort.
Lorna Bieber: Traces is on view at the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery at Stony Brook University through December 18.
Roger Thompson is Senior Editor for Don't Take Pictures. His features have appeared in The Atlantic.com, Quartz, Raw Vision, The Outsider, and many others. He currently resides on Long Island, NY, where he is a professor at Stony Brook University.