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Rena Bass Forman
Iceland #4, Blue Lagoon (mountain)

Italy #3, Seascape (Camogli)

Iceland $10, Gulfoss (detail)

Niagara, #2A
Water as Body and Spirit
by Robert G. Edelman

Rena Bass Forman, "Flow," Nov. 13, 2002-Jan. 11, 2003, at Winston Wachter Mayer Fine Art, 39 East 78th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021

Water in motion and/or stasis, in the form of ocean or waterfall, is the subject of Rena Bass Forman's new, sepia-toned photographs. For nearly a decade, Bass Forman has employed her 2 1/4-inch camera to make images in areas of the world that, for the most part, evince few traces of human activity. Having traveled to, and documented, such exotic and remote places as the Isle of Skye in Scotland, Death Valley in the U.S. West and the secluded backwaters of Kerola in India, Bass Forman in her recent work has focused on an element rather than on a specific location.

As a subject, water is elusive and incorporeal, and that may be part of its visual appeal. For a photographer like Bass Forman, the challenge seems to be capturing the subject in as many of its various guises as possible. Unlike the structural rigor that defines Hiroshi Sugimoto's seascapes, Bass Forman's water images are responses to the particular conditions and dynamism of the chosen site. To achieve the desired mood, however, often takes considerable patience; apparently Bass Forman can wait hours and even days to get what she is after.

In Italy #4, Seascape (Cinque Terre), taken in 2000, the light that illuminates the ocean off the coast of southern Italy is positively biblical. The reflection of the sun's light on the water is brighter than it appears in the sky; water and land are linked by an encompassing shadow in a timeless unanimity. In the foreground, as well as in the distant sky, the deep, burnished tones are forbidding. Human existence, in such a moment and in this place is beside the point, seemingly irrelevant. Whereas Sugimoto's seascapes might remind a viewer of an early Brice Marden painting, the light on the water of Bass Forman's Italy #3 (Campogli) is reminiscent of the hovering, incandescent light in a Rothko. A freezing mist emerging from icy waters takes on a solid-looking, jagged shape, similar to the edge of the rocky coast in Ireland #4, Blue Lagoon (mountain). Each of these photographs is an evocative rumination on the immaterial aspect of water, given a warm tonality that makes the experience otherworldly.

A group of three photographs of Niagara Falls (all from 2002) hang along one wall, all reflecting the subject's surging power. It is hard to imagine anything being added to the visual chronicle of the place, beyond the majestic paintings of Frederick Church and the dark, morbid musings of Hitchcock's Niagara, but Bass Forman brings her own vision to this awesome natural wonder. The water going over the falls is isolated in the middle-ground of each photo, not unlike a dissolving, misty curtain. Together these pictures convey an eerie feeling of suspended animation.

Most powerful here is an image of water flowing into a crevice that cuts diagonally across the composition. Iceland #10, Gulfoss is an image form the edge of the earth, where all converges at a precipice. Bass Forman captures a moment in the natural world that suggests both continuity and the end of the line, something of the inevitable and the immutable.

Prices for the photographs, in editions of seven, range from $ 3,200 to $5,000.

ROBERT G. EDELMAN is an artist who writes about art. His monograph, David Kapp: Working the Grid, was published in 2001.