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Ephemerality's Power: Sandra Gottlieb's "October Waves"
by Dominique Nahas, 2014

Beginning in 1996, Gottlieb has been compelled to make grippingly sensual ocean images in her pursuit to shape perception of time and place. Her images, resonant, with the temporal quality of light and reflections achieved while photographing only during specific times nearing the setting of the sun, has in the past poetically emitted a sense of the genius loci of that beach she is so attached to. A remarkably inventive and prolific artist, Sandra Gottlieb's October Waves series of 2013 is her sixth series of seascapes photographed at Rockaway Beach, in Queens, New York. Gottlieb, a meticulous observer who captures and selects her images with mindfulness and control, used a 300-mm. fixed lens for this series, eschewing zoom lenses entirely and does not crop what has been caught in the frame.

Gottlieb's elemental water imagery has up to now incorporated a nautical sense of place and a keen sense of the oceanic deep as foregrounds including horizon lines and snippets of sand at the edge of the shore helped contextualize the churning, roiling and bustling waves as locally situated. With her color series October Waves, however, Gottlieb's artistic intentionality had shifted, her aesthetic agenda modified and complexified. Her intention was to capture exclusively what she calls in her notes "...the essence of each wave..." that she records while she herself moves to engage and confront the configurations that cascade before her. Thus a double physical engagement is incorporated within the activity of visual recording through the camera : the somatic activity of the photographer (a former dancer) integrated as part of her localizing and observational process and the energetic activity of orbital forces within the water, the dance, so to speak involving the crest of the wave and the hollow section, the trough between two crests. All of the moving parts of each living and dying wave are reflected or refracted within a time span of a few seconds. Gottlieb attempts to capture the very definition of ephemerality.

In arresting her waves photographically in this way Gottlieb's sensual imagery embodies an extra dimension of presentness that is in keeping with the camera's indexical capacity to allow an instantaneous moment to linger thus stabilizing the referent of the wave. Yet in October Waves Gottlieb's intentions and process also reinscribes within photography the subjective vision normally entailed by the act of painting evoking the romance of manual style. Indeed, in an unlikely yet successful passionate embrace of performative conceptualism and romanticism Gottlieb has photographed, mounted and framed her images in such a way so as to induce the sensuality aroused by the expressivity of gestural painting.

The artist immerses herself and us as viewers into what might be called the dramaturgy of the Wave, its sturm und drang. October Waves gives us not only the local color so to speak of Rockaway Beach, it also offers the viewer what appears to be thirty different character studies or individual portraits of waves. Gottlieb sees and interprets formations of rolling and cresting water formations as personifications of life-forces that appear and disappear forever into the body of the ocean. October Waves is a unique departure from Gottlieb's previous work. Gottlieb with her camera seems intent on channeling the primordial energetic forces as never before as she is invoking the salutary painterly energies of two artists she has long admired. She is drawn to Mark Rothko's ineffable mark making and a mindset that leads to a nuanced perception of the flowing, suspension, and ebbing of the moment when self-consciousness and the ego dissolves. Gottlieb also invokes and draws inspiration from the elemental vitality of Rothko's mentor Milton Avery's depiction of the marine environment in his 1967 paintings Black Sea, Double Wave, and White Wave.

These paintings with their reductivist contours and unequivocal paint handling have none of the wispy Matissean lyricism that we associate with his mature style. These wave paintings remain indelible in the mind anchored as they are by Avery's unusual conflation of sensations of transience and groundedness. Rothko's assessment of Avery in that he had achieved, "... far from the casual and transitory implications of [his] subjects...a gripping lyricism, and often achieved the permanence and monumentality of Egypt..." I think is equally true of Sandra Gottlieb's photographs that capture a timeless equivocality of ancient art with an effervescent timeliness that bespeaks of the present moment.

Sandra Gottlieb's powerfully suggestive October Waves series pertains to many things. Among them is her inner journey of connectedness with the discourse of the Deep, parsing out the language of water to arrive at something close to revelation. She knows and reacts to waves. Sandra Gottlieb knows and responds to them (their individuated involutions, their spiritual core, their atomistic makings, their doings, their breakings) almost shamanistically, connecting to them as a photographer-painter would: through the body as well as the mind's eye.

Dominique Nahas is an independent curator and critic based in Manhattan.

Winter Garden 2023
» Nos. 1-15

Abstract Jetty 2022
» One thru Twenty

December Sunset 2020
» Nos. 1-20

A Cloud Study, Sunset 2016
» Nos. 1-20

October Waves 2013
» Nos. 1-30

Waves In Black and White 2011
» Nos. 1-30

Summer 2009
» Nos. 1-20
» Nos. 21-40

Winter 2009
» Nos. 1-12

Seascapes 1996 thru 2006
» Horizontals Nos. 1-20
» Verticals Nos. 1-20

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