Fine Arts: Photographer’s landscape images speak to stillness – nj.com

"Three Benches and Shopping Cart" by Aubrey Kauffman on display in Princeton.Courtesy
Stillness and solitude. A deepening connection between you, the viewer and structures man has built, placed in our natural environment, and often abandoned. This is what you will find when you visit the current exhibition of New Jersey photographer, Aubrey Kauffman’s images at the Arts Council of Princeton.
But be prepared to also be surprised as you enter the Taplin Gallery exhibit where, on the wall facing you, you will see four monumental archival inkjet prints. With the advent of our cell phone cameras, we’re used to photographs being hold-in-your-hand size. As you approach these, however, you feel as if you are entering into that gravel-strewn railroad bed, or carefully finding your way across the deep ruts that trucks made in the ground at the Las Vegas Porto-Tower. You’ll feel like you’re standing across the street from that architecturally spare building identified simply by a number on its side, or being stopped by the chain link fence standing guard between you and a monstrous white storage tank.
In these images in the exhibit, as well as the others of less monumental size, angles and shapes, light and color are the language Kauffman uses to draw us in to see what he has seen through his camera’s lens, to understand the message he wants to convey.
“Through my viewfinder I seek to contrast and compare the interactions of natural and man-made elements,” he says in exhibition materials. “I tend to seek out landscapes that speak to certain stillness. In the buildings and structures that I photograph, I emphasize their architectural quality in the space that they exist. Geometry, shadow and light play major roles in my image making.”
You see all of those elements come into dramatic play in his “No Trailers” and “Blank Wall.” And you see the stillness in “No Show” where empty parking spaces set the stage for the Regal Cinemas 12 theater that stands silent with no movie goers arriving or departing.
He captured that same stillness in a very busy photograph, “Graffiti” where rubble, trash and lively graffiti exist with the skeleton and an abandoned building. The silence of abandonment and the voices of the graffiti writers echo under a brilliant blue sky.
And there’s “Roadside Shack” which I’ve come to think of as an iconic Aubrey Kauffman photograph since I saw it in his solo exhibition at Rider University and wrote what I still see in it today, “(It) stands in lonely abandon on a gravel expanse with only a leaning standpipe for company. The shack, covered with graffiti, bears testimony that, though it is alone at present, it was not always so, much like the human condition often experienced by many.”
Kauffman is expert at capturing human presence in his images even though people never appear. In “Three Benches and Shopping Cart” there’s a sense of expectation in the benches waiting for someone to pause there for rest perhaps before reaching for the cart to begin their shopping. And in “Diner and Dinosaur,” though they stand behind an empty parking lot, there is no sense of abandonment here. Rather, everything looks freshly swept clean, painted and polished ready to welcome visitors on a bright and cheerful day.
Kauffman received an MFA degree in visual arts from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts and was awarded the prestigious Brovero Prize for Photography by Mason Gross. He has taught photography at Mason Gross, Middlesex County College, Mercer County Community College, and Community College of Philadelphia. His work is included in the permanent collection of New Jersey State Museum. He has also exhibited in The Newark Museum, Trenton City Museum, Morris Museum, The Biggs Museum of American Art, and Rider University, as well as in galleries in Amarillo, Texas and New York City. He is currently a contributing producer for State of the Arts broadcast on Public TV in New Jersey, New York and eastern Pennsylvania.
This exhibit of Kauffman’s photographs was a good choice by the Arts Council of Princeton to welcome visitors back to their Taplin Gallery. It’s a quiet show, but also one that speaks powerfully of dichotomy such as we have all had to experience in this time of pandemic: Light holding strongly against darkness, the life force of human presence existing even in solitude.
“We are so excited to welcome the community back to our Taplin Gallery space,” ACP artistic director Maria Evans says. “The ‘stillness’ that Aubrey portrayed in his photographs is a perfect subject matter for us all to reflect on this autumn. We look forward to seeing everyone again.”
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