Ranged around the walls of the gallery in the order of the spectrum, David Benjamin Sherry’s new photographs, photograms and “sand prints” take the primal geometry of American desert landscapes as a starting point for images and abstractions saturated with unexpected color. Interspersed with detail shots of barren, rocky surfaces—they could be from Mars, but were actually taken at national parks in Utah, New Mexico and points further west—are simple patterns of tone produced by exposing matte photographic paper to light without using a camera. A few prints are also coated with fine tinted sand, which lends their surfaces a gentle sparkle and has a slight distancing effect, as if we were glimpsing these scenes through a shimmering heat.
Sherry is an artist committed to traditional techniques. He lugs cumbersome medium- and large-format cameras on his treks into the wilderness and achieves his works’ painterly chromatic richness through obsessive darkroom tinkering rather than quick sessions with Photoshop. His is a photography that feels intensely physical, even when, as in the photograms, it doesn’t even have a subject. It also concentrates our attention on the processes involved—the more pared-down these images become, the more visible the grain of the film.
So while “Astral Desert” looks wholly contemporary in its post-post-Minimalist rigor and interweaving of the representative and the abstract, it hinges on an immersion in time-honored subject matter and the unique quirks of an endangered medium that feel almost wistful. Welcome to the desert of the real.—Michael Wilson