Tama Hochbaum: Over/Time: Imaging Landscape
Tama Hochbaum has recently opened a multifaceted exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in Raleigh, North Carolina. The work and exhibition are a beautiful tribute to the natural world and to the reverence of nature. Each unique piece artfully celebrates and examines her connection to the the woods where she often walks. She is physically rooted in many of the pieces, allowing us to stand and contemplate, as she states, the “notion of watching oneself watching time pass.”
Tama Hochbaum is a photo-based artist living in Chapel Hill. She was born in NYC and attended Brandeis University, where she studied printmaking with Michael Mazur. Upon graduation she was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship to study printmaking in Paris. Returning to the U.S., she moved from printmaking to painting and received her MFA in Painting from Queens College in New York City in 1981. In 1991, while her husband, the composer Allen Anderson, was on a Guggenheim Fellowship, she and her family lived in Tuscany. Though she was still a painter at that time, she brought a camera with her, the one she had used in Paris 15 years earlier. After moving to North Carolina in 1996, she once again shifted media and began to use a camera in earnest. She worked in the darkroom for years, using a variety of film cameras. She then moved to a digital format and for the last 7 years she has used her iPhone exclusively for her photographic work. In 2015 a monograph of her portfolio SILVER SCREEN was published by Daylight Books. From February through May of 2018 she exhibited the SILVER SCREEN work, along with the work of 7 other women, in a show entitled TRIBE, at the Fox Talbot Museum in Wiltshire, England, a show curated by Lori Vrba. In the summer of 2018 she will have an exhibition at CAM, Raleigh, the Contemporary Art Museum, entitled Over/Time: Imaging Landscape. Her work is in the permanent collections of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs, Connecticut. She was represented by George Lawson Gallery, San Francisco/Los Angeles, from 2008 until 2018.
Over/Time: Imaging Landscape
From my earliest days as an artist I have made work about the passage of time. My first work of art is an etching, a composite family portrait/landscape. I drew from two photographs, one of my grandparents and one of my toddler father. There is a stage set of sorts, columns and a backdrop, in the studio portrait of my grandparents at the turn of the 20th century in Warsaw. There is a checkerboard floor in the portrait of my father as a young boy, taken in New York where the family had fled to escape the pogroms and the Russian army. There is also a New England interior and landscape – the window casing of my college room, the winter and spring, depicted simultaneously, outside that window. There is a melding of locations and eras in a single picture plane. Time passes from inch to inch in this etching, from corner to corner, from foreground to back.
This notion of manifesting the passage of time is most evident in the work that is included in the current exhibition at CAM, Raleigh (Contemporary Art Museum). As I moved into making polyptychs, I have used the landscape, both the wild and the tamed, as the theater for my explorations. The modular makeup of these pieces enhances that sense of experiencing oneself seeing, watching, noting the seconds pass as one’s eye moves from panel to panel. It is interesting to note that all of the work in this exhibition was done with my iPhone, either directly with the phone’s camera or filtered through an app. After a serious injury to my wrist in 2011, I was not able to hold my very heavy SLR camera and began using my phone instead. I have never gone back.
The two large crosses on aluminum, as well as the small crosses printed on metallic paper, cut out and mounted onto matte paper, are from the Cross/Walks portfolio. I took most of these photos on daily walks through woods near my home. My walking practice resulted in material for my work. I came to these crosses after almost three years of shooting indoors for two projects, beginning with the SILVER SCREEN portfolio which culminated in the publication of my monograph of the same name with Daylight Books. The SILVER SCREEN: Dancers portfolio followed. I used a grid structure for this dancers series. I found the grid to be most potent in portraying dancers, stopping time with each frame and then letting time progress in the construction and surveillance of the whole.
Moving out of doors, I continued using a multi-panel structure in these Cross/Walks. The cross was a winnowing down of the essential elements of the grid structure – the vertical and the horizontal. The vertical sections of these tree Cross/Walks become a self-portrait. My last name, Hochbaum, means high tree, my Hebrew name, Tamar, means date tree. My presence is felt in every piece – I begin with a shot of my feet and move up to the sky, documenting the tree in front of me. I then photograph the horizontal section, beginning to my very left, and then the span, 180º, frame by frame, moving all the way to my very right. There is, in all of these Cross/Walks, and, in fact, in all of the pieces in the exhibition, a slight veer from panel to panel, an imperfection at the juncture, emphasizing that notion of watching oneself watching time pass.
The modular, open square structure in the Bi squares, so named for the Neolithic Chinese bi discs that were thought to represent the heavens, insists that one look ‘round and round’ the squared off circle, making connections between panels, but always aware of the time it takes to make the trip. The empty center encourages the viewer to meditate on both what has come before and what might come in future.
The lintel (Glandon Road/Portal) connotes by its very structure a doorway. You are invited to pass through, to walk, meander and contemplate while taking in the image on the portal. There is an open invitation in all of the pieces in this exhibition for you to occupy the space in some way, to include your own presence over time.
Elm is a video tribute to a 100 year old Elm tree that fell in my yard in the spring of 2017. I set my images to the Gloria from Igor Stravinsky’s Mass. Music, in its very being, embodies the passage of time. This music is poignant – beautiful and heartrending till the final amen. The opening brass/reed line and the haunting solo alto voice (my part during all the years I sang in choruses) feel quite close to my heart. There is a trace of myself in Elm, my shadow and a fleeting view of my feet. The alto voice, whether solo or in duet, is plaintive, and parallels my own very emotional reaction at the downing of this elm and my response to the loss.
HochBaum, which is realized at eight feet tall, continues in a new way this interest while simultaneously harkens back to my earliest of images. It is almost as if I am photographically drawing the landscape in that early etching. This piece starts with the modular, a grid of 35 separate images. I then insert additional images in Photoshop, layering on to this initial armature. I am tending more towards seamlessness in HochBaum, creating a finished image by a partial erasure of the areas of joining, integrating the layers, the interstices, blending the edges, but always leaving a hint, a fog of mystery at the perimeter of the individual frame. This large piece, presented as it is in Over/Time: Imaging Landscape at the bottom of a set of stairs and with its remnants of the original grid, both feels like one can enter the Corot-like landscape and is, at the same time, a reminder that this is no window we are looking through; this is the act of seeing itself.
I am grateful to Eric Gaard, Exhibitions Director at CAM Raleigh, who, 16 months ago, saw something deep in what I was doing, responded so beautifully to it, envisioned an exhibition, and, along with Gab Smith, Director of CAM, offered me this opportunity. And to George Lawson, who showed many of these pieces originally in his gallery in San Francisco, my deepest thanks.
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