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"MAKING WAVES AT ART SILICON VALLEY"
BARABARA VAUGHN WATERSCAPES
By Frances Malcolm
June 30, 2014
Several years ago, having gained recognition for her extensive series of nudes in nature and portraiture work, Vaughn became increasingly eager to create images that moved beyond the confines of representational photography. She found her inspiration in 2007 when she observed highly stylized reflections dancing across the port waters of Greece. The photographs in this exhibition—which harness nature to realize abstraction—were taken in locations as diverse as the Greek islands, Venice, Italy, the coast of southern California, and the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, from Maine to Florida.
Water has been repeatedly examined by artists working across history and media. Photographic works of note include Ansel Adams’s brooding waterfalls and rocky coasts, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s wide-angle ocean horizons, David Hockney’s studies of swimming pools, and Richard Misrach’s aerial shorelines, among others. Vaughn’s tightly framed, space-collapsing photographs contribute to this time-honored tradition while also advancing it in new directions.
Unlike other depictions of water, Vaughn’s are completely devoid of contextual cues such as beaches, swimmers, fish, or boats. Furthermore, the split-second photographic frames do not contain enough visual information for the viewer to fully identify the settings and subjects. Instead of rationally meditating on a recognizable scene, the viewer is allowed to focus on swirling lines of electric energy, rhythmic gestures, and graphic undulations. The photographs consequently accomplish what the great abstract painters of the 20th century sought to achieve.
One of Vaughn’s hallmarks as an artist is how she utilizes light to bring her subjects to life in new and unexpected ways. Such handling places her work alongside that of Edward Weston and Aaron Siskind, forefathers of photographic abstraction, who prioritized light’s transformative ability in their attempts to move away from realism and figuration.
Though Vaughn’s photographs, like Weston’s and Siskind’s, are of specific locations, the specificity of these settings is superseded by the resulting images’ formal and affective impact. By presenting recalibrated realities, Vaughn invites a level of close examination, engagement, and interpretation that challenges viewers to pay closer attention to what they see, think, and feel.
Barbara Vaughn Interview
1. What does “being creative” mean to you?
I’ve never felt that I was unusually creative. I am a documenter of people, places, and things, and for me, “documenting” has always seemed to be one rung below creating work from raw materials. My subject matter is there in front of me, and I capture it in pixels or on film in a fraction of a second, using some type of photographic apparatus. I am in awe of painters and sculptors; the Abstract Expressionists in particular were an inspiration for this series. While I feel that there is ample creativity in the artistic decisions I make producing my work, in my next life, I want to get my hands dirty in a studio.
2. What is your biggest challenge in creating your work?
For this series, creating a successful image requires the confluence of perfect conditions in nature – wind, light, and tides - while I’m in a perfect location - a port or marina with interesting subject matter. But even when the stars align, other unexpected challenges arise: floating debris, boat traffic, fishermen, ducks, geese and seagulls floating by - even a women’s crew team rowed through a shot. My next show could be “Bloopers”.
3. What is the most memorable response you’ve had to your work?
Excerpt from an email I received after the opening of my last show:
Until one stands in front of the digital blow-ups you have captured through the camera's eye, the full effect of walking up to another one of nature's daily servings is shortchanged by any 8.5 X 11 replication. It’s like the difference between holding a stuffed animal and standing next to an elephant. – Peter Rudolphi
4. Who are two of your favorite artists working in the same medium as you?
Adreas Gursky and Gerhard Richter
5. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
In a post-college career quandary, a friend suggested that what I was meant to do with my life was most likely right under my nose – something so close to me, such a part of me, that I couldn’t see it… something so innate and enjoyable that it wouldn’t feel like “work”. For me, that was photography
6. What is your dream project?
I’m doing it!
7. Do you have a Bucket List?
Yes - at the top of the list is finishing the Seven Great Train Rides of the World. I have two left – the Trans-Siberian Railway (Moscow to Vladivostok), and India’s Palace on Wheels (Delhi to Rajasthan).
8. Describe yourself in 5 words.
Pragmatic, personable, positive, particular, punctually challenged
Review: San Francisco Chronicle, May 2013
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