Last Thursday we went down to New York for the opening of the Gregory Colbert photography installation, Ashes and Snow. We went primarily to support my wife’s ex-husband and my friend, David Darling who composed much of the ambient music used in the installation. Even at a mobbed and noisy opening in a cavernous and cold space, the music shone through. Coupled with a movie that was showing at the far end of the space, David’s music was a perfect compliment for the large scale photographs.
Unfortunately, as soon as I entered the space I was told to put my camera away so I took few pictures and you’re better off going to see this amazing show than looking at even high quality pictures online: the space, photographs, lighting, and sound are breathtaking. The 10 foot by 4 foot (almost cinemascope scale) photos are printed on handmade Japanese paper, are sepia tone, and are coated with wax. The effect is much like a sepia version of Irving Penn platinum prints: a soft, rich, deep, and contemplative look that is in total contrast to the sharp, photos I’ve been trying to make for years.
This is not documentary photography so if you think you’re going to a National Geographic-like show, you will be disappointed; this is a successful exercise in photographing animals and people in water, in temples, and in other settings and presenting it in a such a way to build a mood, a sense of harmony, a feeling. And it works incredibly well.
The Nomadic Museum structure that houses this show was designed by architect Shigeru Ban and will travel with this show to various countries on its world tour. The building is built with large shipping containers, stacked and a “tent” with structural elements made of paper tubes. The lighting is spectacular and the ambient sound is everywhere. Unfortunately, the evening the show opened the outside temperature was 6 (fahrenheit) and because the space is only marginally heated, we froze and had to move through it fast. But, as March marches on, the space will warm up and the show will be more accessible weather-wise. The entire show breaks down into pieces that are loaded into the shipping containers which are then put on a ship and taken to the next venue.
This show is without a doubt one of the important photo exhibitions of our lifetimes and it is being underwritten by numerous big names including George Soros. I saw the show The Family of Man as a child in New York and this show is on a par with it although very different in execution. I’m going to return to New York later in the month to see it again, hopefully with fewer people in the building so I can enjoy the photography. I did splurge and buy the show catalog which is a beautifully made book of the entire show, printed on beautiful paper with similar color and depth of the actual photos.