I've known Tama Hochbaum for a long time and have had a chance to follow the trajectory of her artistic development. For a number of reasons, it seems fitting that she be the one to inaugurate the program in the room for paper. Tama came to photography from years of paint. Her concerns with painting led her to explore complex overlays, multiple perspectives and a luminous palette. The result was reminiscent of that unhinged moment in Italy when the breakthroughs of the late Renaissance were about to tip into mannerism, a transition that championed individuals. Her painting reminded me of the exaggerated foreshortening of Tintoretto and the florescent color of Pontormo--wild, but not bad company.
When she switched to the camera, it seemed to have a grounding effect for her. She focused on her immediate family for subject matter and experimented with the low-tech constraints of pin hole photography, producing modest but haunting images. She had definitely found her medium. I couldn't go for a simple walk with her without having to stop every three minutes while she zoned in on another subject. For all the success of her new found passion, though, I found myself wondering what had happened to the proto-cubist preoccupations of her years of painting. The answer came when Tama discovered digital photography and the license of post-production.
With her latest series of composite images, Tama has managed something most of us would like to achieve; she has reached back and pulled all the constituent chapters of her personal narrative into one integrated resolution. The inspector has gathered all the suspects in the drawing room and we finally get to find out who did it. Rather than fracturing the image, the multiplicity of approach in these photographs, with slight shifts in light, angle and scale, manages to serve a greater coalescence and clarity in motif. Her realization of her subjective view is crystalline, and is lent even greater universality in her series concentrating on the archetype of the lone tree. These works are rich, at once slowly revealing and yet immediately accessible. I feel fortunate to be able to show them in the room for paper.
George Lawson, Director
room for painting room for paper
Fade in: Tama Hochbaum is in her car, parked on Mt. Sinai Road in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She has her laptop with her. Using the laptop’s built-in camera, she begins to gather digital fragments of the landscape she finds before her – cross sections of thick fog and dispersing mist, concrete slabs set into the incline of the land as steps, the angles and planes of a few modest houses, the curve and slope of a winding road. Oak, hickory and maple trees arch over a chain link fence and recede along the road into the distance.
What emerges from this reverie is a work called “Mt. Sinai Road” (2008), an accumulation of fractions of an equation that refuses to give us an even, round number. Instead, Hochbaum offers an open-ended sequence in which the eye continually moves in and among an amalgam of planar statements, an unspoken assertion that what’s available to us within our visual field can never be reduced to a single image.
Cut to: Another point in time. Hochbaum, on vacation with her family, finds herself overlooking the Grand Canyon in Arizona as the sun is setting. She sets up her camera and begins to shoot. Here time is a key factor, the great motivator for all film and photo shoots – it’s all about “losing the light.” From one moment to the next the light has shifted, and Hochbaum continues to engage the shifts. Along this section of the ridge only seconds ago the waves of ebbing pink light had burned brighter. She caught that too and will use it, the shifting tones expanding an infinite palette culled from those minute variations in the light. Out into the canyon, in and among the ancient carved gorges, Hochbaum moves her eye and her lens and frames the geological passages in chapters, sectional phrases of stone and distance. Storm clouds congregate overhead, ever-darkening with the fading sun. A gnarled juniper seems to oversee this symphonic moment, its limbs captured and repeated in Hochbaum’s final composition, “Sunset at Grand Canyon” (2008).
Ultimately all of Hochbaum’s composites speak of time; it’s part of what she’s always pulling into the work. Her composites are fueled by a feeling of visual voraciousness and a delight in the tension between component details and the greater whole. Hochbaum’s concerns with breaking up space in a planar fashion can be seen in her early painting and print work. Her composite photographs can be compared to those of David Hockney. Both artists have found ways in which the format is a conduit for each artist’s painterly impulses. Hockney’s composites create and emphasize a two-dimensional image, dismantling photography’s potential for depth of field, whereas Hochbaum engages the process as a method of expansion and exploration of the possibilities of pictorial space, emphasizing depth by restating variations in atmospheric space and the relationships between the objects that inhabit that space.
Flashback: Southern California (Night). Hochbaum finds herself at the base of a suburban mountain. Interior lit architecture glows under an electric blue sky. The artist begins to shoot, assembling component pieces for what will become “Evening in Orange County” (2008). The composition reveals itself in the triadic structure of three fichus trees, one placed front and center, another to the left in the middle distance, and another far off to the right. The trees sparkle with holiday lights wrapped around their trunks and limbs, equally beautiful and absurd, simultaneously of and apart from nature. In the final composition a dot of a brilliant white moon pierces the upper left quadrant of the work, offset by a fugue-like jigsaw of shifting zones, deep blue panels of sky that form a sublime architecture.
A central impulse of Hochbaum’s work seems to be to offer an experience of Beauty in the most classical sense. But Hochbaum’s fractured narratives give way to a subtle-but-potent idea, that beauty is an ever-shifting process, a destabilized chaos in which magnificent shards conjoin to serve a unity. Hochbaum highlights the interrelationship of her component parts, refusing the ease of the seamless image. Even the subject matter of Hochbaum’s work is subsumed by her compositional imperatives. Hochbaum, out in the world with her camera, seems to be on the lookout for vistas powerful enough to withstand the crucible of her process.
Pan across to: It’s been storming out and Hochbaum’s gaze is drawn through a window of her home out onto the depth of green of her back yard. She positions her camera, capturing pictorial pieces that will culminate in a three-tiered composition of grass, trees and tempestuous sky. This accumulation will manifest as “Stormy Weather” (2008), in which Hochbaum’s compositional acumen kicks into high gear. Here the reflections of a white window frame become a curvilinear grid that serves as a metaphoric and structural foundation for the piece. Note the interplay between the geometry of its architectural form and the lines of the white barn structure outside. The panes of Hochbaum’s component units of the natural world parallel the window panes through which her camera eye is focused. The lines of the curving grid begin to suggest an ovoid shape that holds the work’s center. “Stormy Weather” is a compositional tour-de-force, simultaneously sustaining a tremendous sense of movement and breathtaking balance.
Trees are the rubric around which this grouping of work was formed, however trees aren’t the whole story. Each one of these works contains, frames, flaunts and celebrates the trees within them, but the real through-line is Hochbaum herself, and her persistent eye. These works represent moments in time in which the artist, fully present and engaged, grabs hold of the world coming in through her viewfinder. The works come into being cinematically, in the editing room, where the artist, now in retreat from the outer world remakes it at will. Consider a work such as “Christmas Eve at Rite Aid” (2007). The mulberry tree is framed dead center, but somehow the subtext of the work can’t be suppressed. Christmas Eve in a drug store parking lot – no people around, not even that many cars. A strange, suspended, moment in time, one that had most likely been built around some kind of banal errand. But there’s Hochbaum, at the ready – noticing.
Down the Rabbit Hole!
Golden Belt Arts presents Tama Hochbaum
Down the Rabbit Hole, Photography Exhibit
March 19, – April 11, 2010
TAMA HOCHBAUM AT MANIFEST GALLERY, CINCINNATI
Looking Through the Glass
Manifest Gallery is proud to present a solo exhibit of the photography of Tama Hochbaum. An intimate drawing room experience, this exhibit titled “Looking Through the Glass,” will present a series of composite digital prints similar to those first seen in Manifest’s recent exhibit Trick of the Light curated by Dennis Kiel. Works will include moody fragmented views of architecture and landscape often as seen through a window (including the window itself). Hochbaum’s works provide the viewer an opportunity to experience the point of view of the artist in tangible, visible, and formally beautiful ways.
Photo-illustrated Alice in Wonderland commissioned by Lauren Turner of
Flanders 311 in Raleigh, North Carolina: "Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?"
Tama Hochbaum: Looking Through the Glass
Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center, Cincinnati, OH,
January 23 - February 20, 2009