Soho Photo Gallery, 15 White Street, NY through July 9th
By Mario Naves, June 16, 2023
Joseph Cornell has received a deserving heir in Laura Dodson, whose photographs are the subject of an exhibition at Soho Photo. Cornell's oeuvre doesn't readily lend itself to followers: its parameters are too intensely circumscribed, personal and peculiar. But Dodson elaborates upon precedent in a manner that establishes its own kind of idiosyncrasy and does so in terms of material technique and psychological focus or, if you prefer, mysterious means and poetic elision.
What is the media, exactly, that went into shaping the pictures featured in "Nostalgia"? They are photo-based, certainly, and explicitly contain images of photographs. Dodson hunts-and-pecks her way through thrift shops and second-hand stores, on the lookout for the inevitable shoe box containing an abundance of discarded family photos. The intimate nature of these found pictures, whether posed or off-the-cuff, is a constant, as is their having been divorced from a specific context. A strain of rootlessness filters its way through Dodson's vision.
Dodson transforms the photos through means that nod to the handmade--the collage aesthetic is paramount here--but nonetheless embrace 21st-century verities. Digitally manipulating a variety of sources--besides vintage photos, these include Old Master paintings, decorative motifs gleaned from nature, photos taken of quotidian objects and a dizzying array of textures--Dodson creates dream-spaces whose porousness brings to fruition elusive states of feeling. Dipping her toe into the Surrealistic, Dodson foregoes affect and outrage for something altogether more tender. The photos press upon memory with a Renaissance-like fortitude.
Dodson's tonal palette tends toward the silvery, but is punctuated with selective blushes of color--whether it be the minty metallic blue that bolsters "Travel By Train" (2016) or the chalky pinks and milky whites permeating "Whose Ghost" (2020). The verdant greens and rust reds set against a backlit field of off-white bestow "Glass Door" (2023) with an import that is no less spiritual for being clinical in temper. The porcelain luster of the title flora in "Bluebells" (2022) brings tangibility to a picture that is otherwise resolute in its otherworldliness.
Dodson's work is meticulously configured--the expansive fields of watery incident that typify her compositions are crystalline in resolution--but open to chance and, with chance, error. Skidding along the periphery of the pictures are saturated slurs of digitized color--the clearest indication of the tools by which the images are created. Given the retrospective character of Dodson's vision, these accents provide not only formal tension but irony. The state-of-the-art works in conjunction with the antique, the virtual with the tactile, and the artificial with the organic. Art is nothing without contradiction.
How can we not help but recognize ourselves within Dodson's sweeping and clustered reliquaries? Romance, as much as nostalgia, permeates these tableaux, but so, too, does a sense of connection rooted in common experience. Children figure prominently in Dodson's pictures, as do conceptions of how we, as adults, remember childhood. The vagaries of memory, she reminds us, are forever malleable and, as such, fictions rooted in fact. This is only one of the many conundrums brought to exacting resolution in Dodson's haunting pictures.
Image Left: Laura Dodson, The Wedding Guest, 2021, 17 x 12 inches Image Right: Laura Dodson, Whose Ghost, 2020, 17 x 12 inches Header Image:Laura Dodson, Glass Door, 2023 17 x 12 inches Images Courtesy of: the artist and Soho Photo Gallery