Exhibition Opening: Sunday, September 21 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Member's Hour 2-3 p.m.
Artist's Talk during the museum Premiere of the Study on Friday, November 14 from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
This exhibition focuses on two of Yola Monakhov Stockton's bodies of work: Empire Pictures of the Hudson and The Nature of Imitation – exploring how life intercepts with nature. The artist's documentation of nature coincides with Alice Austen's owns obsessive work photographing The Narrows throughout her lifetime. Clear Comfort provides an ideal location to contemplate how their work, history and photography intersect.
“Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf. Art is applied to the mixture of his will with the same things…”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836
The work of Yola Monakhov Stockton speaks to the fact that the contemporary photographer is no longer bound to a limited technology, nor required to define herself through a distinct vision or aesthetic style; instead, she is driven by curiosity, concentration, and a longing to engage with particular subjects, deeply and intensely, via the photographic medium. Even a cursory glance at Monakhov Stockton’s impressively eclectic portfolio reveals that she is both comfortable and confident in employing a wide variety of visual approaches, languages and strategies in order to convey her exploration of a chosen place, subject, or theme. Furthermore, in doing so, she inspires her audience to consider whatever she directs their attention to in a similar manner; again, with a profound sense of curiosity, concentration, and engagement.
In Fields of Inquiry, we encounter selections from two very different bodies of work, which share an underlying theme common to Monakhov Stockton’s oeuvre: the relationship between civilization and nature. Empire Pictures of the Hudson adopts what might be considered a very “traditional” or “transparent” photographic approach (albeit one that has generally fallen out of fashion in recent decades) – black-and-white, “straight” documentary photography – and concentrates around and upon the Hudson River, the presence of which quietly haunts each picture, and gently infuses every one with an atmosphere of tranquility and meaning well beyond that of the immediate moment they capture. The images are eclectic - pensive portraits, languid landscapes, cluttered interiors, and curious details – yet each one reveals how the river affects, shapes, influences, and defines us in subtle but important ways through its lingering presence. And in a sense, the photographs themselves reveal how nature gives us meaning. Work from the bird series represents a reversal of these roles, exploring how we attempt to give meaning to nature. By assuming the roles of pseudo-ornithologist, still life photographer, and conceptual artist, she exploits the photographic medium’s ability to construct an entirely artificial environment, within which the natural world – in this case, living birds – can be examined, analyzed, and transformed into symbols and metaphors well beyond their literal existence. Describing the underlying strategy for the project, Monakhov Stockton has explained, “In a sense I’m turning the world itself into a studio.”
In bringing these two bodies of work together, Fields of Inquiry not only reveals the varied, complicated and ever-changing relationships that exist between nature and humanity, the immediate and the abstract, reality and photographic image, and the artist and her audience, but also the inquisitiveness, rigor, and diversity with which Monakhov Stockton is willing to explore such territory. This is not a photographer who is determined to define the world for us as she sees fit, but instead – though careful attention to how (and why) she utilizes both her subject and her medium – quietly reminds us to carefully reflect upon it in a variety of ways for ourselves, both within and outside of her own frame.
“Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things?”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836
Monakhov Stockton’s work deals with landscape and literature, the qualities of boundaries and constraints, data gathering, and the materiality of photography. Her work has been exhibited in the U.S. and internationally. Awards include a Meredith S. Moody fellowship from Yaddo, and a Fellowship from Greve in Chianti (FI)/ Macina di San Cresci. She has worked regularly for The New Yorker, and her work has appeared in Harper's, Esquire, TIME, Marie Claire, Newsweek, and The New York Times. She has worked on assignment in the Middle East, Central Asia, the former Soviet Union, and Iran. She is currently the Harnish Visiting Artist at Smith College and also on the faculty at Columbia University and the International Center of Photography. Her work is in the collection of the Smith College Museum of Art and numerous private collections. She was born in Moscow, Russia, and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts and New York City with her husband and son.
The show is curated by Natalie Matutschovsky, Senior Photo Editor at TIME.