THE magazine September 2013
THE magazine is Santa Fe New Mexico's magazine of international art, photography, culture, and restaurant dining.
CRITICAL REFLECTION Mitch Dobrowner: Storms photo - eye G allery 370 Garcia Street, Santa Fe THERE IS NO CARNAGE IN MITCH DOBROWNER’S NEW SHOW, STORMS , despite its subject matter. His black-and-white photographs, which celebrate Dobrowner’s forthcoming book from Aperture, also titled Storms, capture awesome weather patterns that in documentation present a calm façade and definitive lull amid chaos. This vicariously voyeuristic opportunity permits space for aesthetic observation and evokes questions about climate change. In light of recent devastating natural disasters, our role in shifting nature’s balance seems integral, but it is telling that not one of the photographs in Storms shows a living organism other than plant life. Via these terrific images, Dobrowner delivers the sobering reality of Mother Nature’s wrath that makes man so completely irrelevant it’s hard to remember the brave, rogue photographer behind the lens clicking the shutter. Images like Veil, made in Buffalo, South Dakota, show a tremendous tension in what is essentially water vapor. Disclosing polarizing forces, the far left is a narrow strip of completely clear sky that swiftly becomes enveloped by a fluffy cylindrical shape whose underside is bright and utopic, shedding light in the far distance onto flat plains. Just above this heavy blanket, clouds threaten as they swirl to the right, going up and up like icing on a great big cupcake. The textures merge into a grey abyss that flows down alongside in a smooth veil of wispy tethers—barely discernable rain and wind. Veil is a monochromatic version of Turner’s vast landscapes that blend light and dark, earth and sky into elemental amalgamations. Our distance from the storm is unfathomable except to recognize the tiny rows of black dots trimming the horizon as bushes. They may be great big trees, but from here size is impossible to gauge and anything relatively human scale is distinctly tiny. The sublime, as evoked by the Romantics—where nature is simultaneously beautiful and terrible— revisits Dobrowner’s viewer and promptly shuffles him back down to earth. Like most of Dobrowner’s titles, Veil is a cunning and playful description for something unnamable. Rather than go untitled, his simple phraseology turns the terrifying into an imaginative game of finding pictures in clouds. Pillar Cloud, which was shot in Lewistown, Montana, takes an arc of clouds culminating in a deluge of vertical rain and turns it into an architectural installation. Starship converts a quaint wooden fence and country house from a pastoral landscape SEPTEMBER into a UFO sighting. Clouds above the house plunge horizontally into a disc shape, while fluffy tendrils float down and hover above the house. Rope Out is a common description for the maturation of a twister, but also makes the awesome strength witnessed here sound like an entertaining sport. Taken in Regan, North Dakota, it’s probably the most catching, iconographic photograph. Dead center is a thick gestural line that swings from the stormy clouds above and hits the ground with the frayed eruption of spiraling gases penetrating the earth. The surrounding area is tranquil and barren, in hiding from this forceful pounce. Out of nearly one thousand images used throughout the pages of National Geographic in 2012, Rope Out was chosen as one of the magazine’s top ten. Dobrowner’s work has been featured in Time magazine, The Economist, National Audubon Society, on CNN, and in dozens of other art and news sources across the globe. An admirer of Ansel Adams, Dobrowner shares a particular love for the Southwest landscape but also inclement weather, leading him to connect with acclaimed storm chaser Roger Hill. In a recent talk at photo-eye Gallery, Dobrowner noted, “Wherever weather is, is wherever we go,” a motto that prompted trips to otherwise unexciting territory in search of “mother ship supercells.” Up close Storms’ photographs appear blurry and powdery soft. Blustering winds create plenty of movement to relegate crisp lines to photographing corpses, and his paper-rag surface makes the printed pigment look like small, painterly brush strokes. The widely variegated greys in their amorphous shapes look like a draftsman’s tiny ellipses able to squeeze the whole grey-scale from a single pencil. Bolts of lightning in images like Wall Cloud look like blind contour lines; their sgraffito-like silhouettes are a crisp, subtractive white, determined and delicate. Dobrowner’s technical skills, keen eye, and luck expose Mother Nature’s strength but also her weakness. The whole point of a storm, says Dobrowner, is “to turn an unstable environment into a stable environment again.” The earth fights to maintain equilibrium just like the rest of us. Storms are alive, weak in points, but gaining strength in others. Eventually, they dissipate like bad colds, and Dobrowner admits, “If I’m going to go, let me go like this.” —Hannah Hoel Mitch Dobrowner, Arm of God, archival pigment print, 14” x 21”, 2009 2013 THE magazine | 53