A photograph “takes the world and makes it into something else,” says Aaron Rothman, whose interest lies in transformative rather than documentary photography. This exhibition surveys 10 years of Rothman’s studies of the landscape of the American West, a region with which he has a deep and long-standing personal relationship.
Don’t expect majestic, distant vistas of desert moonrises or sheer rock faces. Rothman instead looks up at the sky and down at scrubland, humbler rocks, and foliage. Through analog and digital photography and digital processing and printing, he transmutes these unpretentious fragments of nature into sensuous, sublimely beautiful images that hover between two- and three-dimensional space and vacillate between representation and abstraction.
Each of the 35 artworks in the exhibition began as a straightforward photograph; a few remain unaltered. Most, however, have been digitally manipulated using one of four processes. Values of light and dark are reversed in shots of the sky, rendering it darker at the horizon instead of lighter. In some landscapes, multiple views of a single scene, sometimes taken years apart, are layered to evoke a gentle dissonance of time and space. Shadowed areas in close-ups of plants and rocks are digitally replaced with lush, decorative colors. And in images of the Milky Way, Rothman generates a pointillist universe by letting sensor noise—an inescapable trait of digital cameras that photographers typically try to minimize—dominate the information being recorded, known as the signal.
Rothman’s images are not so much declarative statements as questions that investigate the relationship between the natural and the artificial. His journeys into the western landscape are explorations of digital photography’s ability to transform external reality into a subjective, imagined realm.