Deschenes' exhibition of color photographs of Beppu, a Japanese spa town, was enlivened by the work's installation: the photos were placed on the wall between the baseboards and the ceiling according to the relative elevations of the sites they depict. One of Beppu's attractions is its stunning topography, with a central band of hot springs called "hells" surrounded by verdant forest rising from coastline to mountaintop. The installation conveys a presence of place that is typically lost in landscape photography, and it makes sense for the total space which is much more demanding than say a book or magazine. The gallery's white walls frame and ground the photographs in an unseen but palpable environment.
On one wall is a vertical column of monochrome dye-transfer prints, a configuration that is more suggestive of a cartographic color key rather than any obsessive tendencies associated with monochrome painting. These monochromes seem elemental and discrete, not unlike the color seen in old Technicolor movies, and provide a certain conceptual distance or frame at the same time that they add a sensual and spiritual note. Deschenes' nature-images, too, are elemental and mysterious in a way that seems as natural as the volcanic vapor that they depict. The cultivation of Beppu, and the directness of the photography, remind me of the rigid framing of exploding factory steam in several scenes of Michelangelo Antonioni's film Red Desert.
The sulfuric- and celadon-colored waters of the "hells" is oddly reminiscent of the earthy colors of William Eggleston's Southern landscape photographs. I cannot help but think that Liz Deschenes has carefully considered the entire history of color photography. Beppu is inviting because it exists as a place of immersion and dissolution. Deschenes has thoughtfully constructed a corresponding place where we can be released in body and thought amid geothermal and altitudinal lift.
Liz Deschenes, "Beppu," Oct. 11-Nov. 15, 1997, at Bronwyn Keenan, 3 Crosby St., New York, N.Y. 10013.
Michael Brennan is a New York painter who writes on art.