Interpreting the Rocks of New Haven, by William Zimmer

“A 360-degree view by Harold Shapiro showing activities near the rocks.” -Image courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, ART, “Interpreting the Rocks of New Haven,” by William Zimmer, August 1, 1999

“OTHER cities with natural monuments like East Rock and West Rock would put them on T-shirts and key chains. But these New Haven land forms, near mirror images of each other, are so little publicized that they seem like mirages to someone who doesn’t live in the city.

An exhibition at The New Haven Colony Historical Society proves, however, that the people of New Haven have abiding affection for these rocks.

‘The Harbor of the Red Mountains: Contemporary Photographers Look at East Rock and West Rock’ features the work of 14 photographers. Some show the rocks’ butte-like forms from a distance; others get close and examine nooks and crannies. Still others humanize them by including human beings, while a smaller number verge on the arcane.

The show, whose curator is Amy L. Trout, is introduced by three stunning color photographs by Linda Lindroth. Two of them prove that the rocks are indeed red, while the third, ‘In the morning in the blue snow,’ is a shift in mood. Color of a much paler sort is used by Jan Murdock, who has made a collage of Polaroid images on watercolor paper, which looks as though she has caught some ghost-like Victorian images that haunt the rocks.

Marion Hoben Belanger, Robert Lisak and Joan Fitzsimmons are interested in what can be seen from the rocks and inside them (Judge’s Cave is famous as the place where Puritans, who plotted to kill King Charles II, hid out in 1661). They give their work plain titles, ‘East Rock’ and ‘West Rock,’ and make gelatin-silver prints. This is the medium of choice for a great number of photographers in the show.

Mr. Lisak is essentially a formalist. One of his most striking pictures is the juxtaposition of nearly identical rock forms, but one is fully lighted, revealing a mass of detail, while the other is a silhouette.

Ms. Belanger brings social ideas into her work. While East Rock and West Rock have been city parks since the late 19th century, there is something both jarring and poignant about the presence of a chain-link fence on the slope of a rock in one of her works. It is a reminder that a natural force like the rock, which would fit in the landscape of the Wild West, has been domesticated.

Ms. Fitzsimmons likes her nature softer, as revealed in print series from each rock that focuses on branches, leaves and ground cover.

The series of images by Terry Dagradi is about variety that nevertheless has a steady underpinning. East Rock appears in each picture, but sometimes, as in ‘Harbor View,’ it is way in the background. Ms. Dagradi hints at anecdotal possibilities in works like ‘Empty Bench’ and ‘Stop Signs,’ and celebrates less aggressive nature than the rock in ‘Little Birds’ and ‘White Blossoms.’ Her most provocative image is ”All Lines Lead.” It was taken in a parking lot, and the many white stripes on the asphalt all seem to be directed at the rocks in a trenchant comment on nature and late-20th century culture.

The persistence of the rock in all Ms. Dagradi’s disparate compositions might remind some of Wallace Stevens’s ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.’ Stevens, who constantly incorporated the Connecticut landscape in his poetry, is explicitly invoked by Ben Ledbetter who includes the text of Stevens’s ‘The Rock’ in his presentation, which also includes a grid of photographic images, some having little to do with the theme of the exhibition, or so it seems initially.

One is a number of people wearing grotesque masks, and another is a form wrapped like a mummy in a store window. They are surrounded by pictures of nature, though; the eccentric images signal a desire to include the strange in his celebration of nature, as Stevens would do.

“Ben Ledbetter incorporates people waring grotesque masks in his exhibit.” -Image courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, ART, “Interpreting the Rocks of New Haven,” by William Zimmer, August 1, 1999

Mr. Ledbetter’s presentation is only one of several novel ones. Marianne Bernstein’s ‘Pentimento Nos. 1-4’ uses negatives that she said she rescued from a neighbor’s trash can. It is displayed in light boxes. Nothing seems to refer directly to the East Rock neighborhood she lives in, but as did Mr. Ledbetter, she might be widening the frame of reference.

Jane Booth Vollers exhibits both a grid of dark gelatin-silver prints called ‘Ellie’s Garden’ and a fat antique-looking book containing 37 prints that she said are a record of one morning in Edgerton Park.

Phyllis Crowley includes three small incidents, enlarged from a contact sheet, at the bottom of each of her compositions. They work like the panels at the base of altarpieces that make awesome subjects more intimate. One sequence is ‘Bathing the Dog,’ another is a bucolic ‘Two Girls and River Trees.’

Some of Lori Blados’s images are unframed and of rock faces that look tacked on the wall straight from an ink jet printer. They are stacked, to mimic cliff sides, and because they are somewhat wrinkled and overlap, are even more like the actual rock.

“An image by Lori Blados.” -Image courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, ART, “Interpreting the Rocks of New Haven,” by William Zimmer, August 1, 1999

Sean Kernan arranges nine separate segments of a beech tree into three rows so that the actual tree looks even more resplendent than it would if presented without seams.

Mark Depman’s large ‘Approaching New Haven’ looks as if it is hung upside down, but he is aiming for a kind of vertigo. Harold Shapiro exploits a long, horizontal 360-degree format to indicate the amplitude of the rocks and the various activities there. Instead of showing us what is seen through long-distance viewing mechanisms perched on the side of the rocks, he shows us people looking through those devices.

Accompanying the exhibition is a catalog with photo reproductions tucked loosely in the back. An impressionistic but somewhat rueful essay by Anne Higonnet points out that since the interstate highways cut off New Haven residents’ access to the Sound in the late 1950’s, East Rock and West Rock have taken over as a harbor.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, ART, “Interpreting the Rocks of New Haven,” by William Zimmer, August 1, 1999. (top) “‘All Lines Lead’ is a work by Terry Dagradi. Taken in a parking lot, it seems a comment on nature and late-20th century culture.” Image courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, ART, “Interpreting the Rocks of New Haven,” by William Zimmer, August 1, 1999

This view of East Rock Park, by School of Medicine staff member Terry Dagradi, is among the images in ‘The Harbor of the Red Mountains.’-Image courtesy of Yale University, Yale News Archives, Yale Bulletin and Calendar, July 19 – August 23, 1999

Yale affiliates featured in exhibit focusing on East and West Rocks

“When Dutch explorer Adrian Block passed through Long Island Sound in 1614, he took special note of two unusual rock formations standing near a harbor and made a chart of the area, labeling it ‘Roodeberg’ (Red Hills).

Those outcroppings — now known simply as East and West Rock — served as landmarks for settlers for years to come, and eventually became part of the folklore of the city that grew up around them.

The interrelationship between ‘the Rocks’ and modern-day residents of New Haven is explored in the exhibition ‘The Harbor of the Red Mountains: Contemporary Photographers Look at East and West Rock,’ which is on view through Saturday, Aug. 28, at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.

The show features over 50 works by 13 area photographers — 6 of whom are Yale affiliates.

The exhibit was organized by Linda Lindroth, a New Haven photographer and assistant professor at Quinnipiac College, who lives across the street from East Rock. ‘This exhibition is the product of a search for new spaces and new relationships within the city to show artwork,’ says Lindroth, noting that it is the first time that the historical society has hosted an exhibit by living photographers.

In an essay in the exhibition catalogue, Amy L. Trout, curator at the New Haven Colony Historical Society, writes, ‘More than geographical features, East and West Rocks are symbols of New Haven. As such, they carry meaning beyond what their physical presence implies.’ The Rocks have served as a ‘backdrop’ in artworks documenting the changes in New Haven over the years, she notes.

‘For historians, the 20th-century record of East and West Rocks is a photographic one,’ writes Trout, adding, ‘By 1900 East and West Rocks were officially city parks where a factory worker, store clerk or any New Havener could stroll and wander at leisure. Neighborhoods formed around the base of the rocks. Photographs document this growing human contact with the rocks — both the physical proximity of houses, parks and picnics and people’s emotional or spiritual connection to them.’

The Yale-affiliated photographers featured in the exhibit are Terry Dagradi, a designer in the biomedical communications department at the School of Medicine; and Yale alumni Marion Hoben Belanger ’90 M.F.A., Lori Blados ’84 M.F.A., Anne Higonnet ’84 M.F.A., ’88 Ph.D., Robert Lisak ’81 M.F.A. and Jan Murdock ’88 B.L.S. The other featured artists, in addition to Lindroth, are Marianne Bernstein, Phyllis Crowley, Mark Depman, Joan Fitzsimmons, Sean Kernan, Ben Ledbetter, Harold Shapiro and Jane Booth Vollers.

‘The Harbor of the Red Mountains’ is supported in part by a grant from William C. Graustein. It is cosponsored by People’s Bank.

Located at 114 Whitney Ave., the New Haven Colony Historical Society is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Admission is $2 for adults, $1.50 for senior citizens and students with I.D., $1 for children ages 6-16, and free for children under age 6.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Yale University, Yale News Archives, Yale Bulletin and Calendar, July 19 – August 23, 1999

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