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Gazing into Space: New Photographs by Mary Lang


…… In Lang’s work, we care about the land, but even more so the sky. In her vistas they are conscious actors, especially when clouds roll in like fog or mist, obscuring solid surfaces. People are not an afterthought but they are small, dwarfed by the immensity of their environment.


Lang’s visit to Machu Picchu was definitely rewarding. In one image the Peruvian peaks dissolve, engulfed by cottony banks of fog, as if the vertiginous mountains weren’t completely real after all. The figures in the lower left corner climbing around cliff-like walls of ashlar seem to exist in a world of magical transformation, visiting lost horizons and hushed grandeur.


Closer to home, Lang finds that the lush natural settings of New England and California offer nurturing refuge.  The scenes she chooses are maintained and landscaped, but in a way that human intrusions like fences and power lines become fragile and unimportant details, where wildflowers and old trees and swaying grass are left to develop in well-tended wilderness.


Even an image taken of an artificial setting (a landscape constructed for a model train in San Diego) fits in with Lang’s sandy, grassy hills. The scale and composition make the artificial hard to spot among the actual, but once seen, you question the reality of the other images. Another scene features a rectilinear tennis court surrounded by chain link fencing and lush vegetation. Though familiar, you sense Lang asks us to stop and consider what we’re really seeing.  -----Shawn Hill, Art New England, January 2015



Outside and in touch - Gazing into Space: New Photographs by Mary Lang

The landscapes of photographer Mary Lang, now up at Kingston Gallery, also explore space. For Lang, though, it’s about capturing the strange truth of a given moment. She’s a practicing Buddhist; in her photos, she strives for detailed awareness. Like any landscape, they reflect inner space.

“Train landscape, Model Train Museum, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA” is a delightful oddity, with its painted flats and tiny utility poles and trees. It shrinks and skews nature, and cleverly sets off the natural landscapes around it. The lyrical “Near Long Beach, WA” has us gazing through a rain-spattered window toward light pushing through clouds above. Whether gazing down a mountain or through a mist, Lang’s photos, full of curiosity and affection, depict a world of surprises.

---- Cate McQuaid, Boston Globe Correspondent, 

Mary Lang photos at Kingston Gallery through Nov. 30 Gazing Into Space Image: Mary Lang, Near Long Beach, WA, archival pigment print, 20x30 inches, 2014. 12galler


Mary Lang’s “Near Long Beach, WA.”


Like Water, Trustman Gallery, Simmons College

Mary Lang’s “Near the Pump House, Auburndale, MA.”
“Near the Pump House, Auburndale, MA.”

         Water dominates this planet. Light dominates photography. So what’s the relationship between water and light? Well, it’s ambiguous. Water can’t quite make up its mind about light. It reflects light. It also lets light in. It’s mirror and lens, and to at least some degree a distorting lens, to boot. Back and forth, up and down, in and out: From that duality, all sorts of arresting visual effects arise.

         For a decade, Mary Lang has been photographing water: as river, ocean, puddle, cloud, droplet; between banks, along beaches, in parking lots, on windows; in Auburndale, on the Cape, by the Oregon coast, in the Andes. Variety of type and location is one of the attractions of water as camera subject. It’s not quite as ubiquitous as light, but it’s found in numerous forms all over the Earth even as it always remains the same: good old H2O.

         There are 18 color images in “Like Water: Photographs by Mary Lang.” The show runs at Simmons College’s Trustman Gallery through April 17. The pictures vary in size from 7½ inches by 9 inches to 30 inches by 40 inches. Regardless of size, they’re all about immersion — not the immersion that gets you wet (a pertinent concern), but the immersion that leaves boundaries behind. The only thing that locates these photographs is their captions. Few cartographic aids are as distinctive, or beautiful, as water: the shape of a lake, a curve of coast. The geography that interests Lang, though, is the kind found in the title of a famous collection of Guy Davenport essays: “The Geography of the Imagination.”

         In photographing water, Lang has said, she seeks “something intangible, impermanent, and luminous.” Those qualities are all evident in “Like Water.” These are quiet pictures. Lang’s waves don’t crash; they flow. One can more easily imagine her water evaporate than cascade or inundate. The power of water is there, but it has no need to call attention to itself.

        It’s up to each viewer to decide whether those qualities Lang seeks take a form that’s more spiritual or strictly visual. Lang’s consistent ability to present color in a handsome, unemphatic way conduces to either interpretation. The images create their own sense of reality, not so much flirting with abstraction as inviting it in for a chat. Attractive as these photographs are, they are anything but pretty. Don’t expect to find them on a calendar or postcard. Not that there’s anything wrong with calendars or postcards. But staying up to date and tracking road trips are the furthest thing from Lang’s mind. That old putdown, “Hey, you’re all wet”? Lang shows that it might also be considered a compliment. --- Globe,


        "Mary Lang's photographs of water, titled "groundless", use an ambiguous orientation with no direct reference to the surrounding shore or sky. They are full of water from edge to edge, taking the ripples, waves, and wind-blown surfaces as their subject. In the fifteen photos, water takes on many textures reminiscient of painterly brush strokes to smooth reflective surfaces. In gallery notes, Lang mentions her affintity with the "vast undiluted" natural spaces she photographs. While the images capture water's reflected elements (sun, sky, clouds), the subject of these photos is what is not visible in the camera lens. Lang calles it a "freedom from concept" and it allows for endless possibilities.
          These photographs don't capture the grandeur of an ocean or the magnificence of a waterfall. With their understated, muted coloration and textures they require careful looking to appreciate their subtle nuances. The gallery website mentions Lang's interest in meditation, and the connection to water as a contemplative aid is obvious." 
---Susan Mulski, Art NewEngland, April/May 2006


"Mary Lang shoots reflections on the surface of water, then she upends the photograph, turning the images upside-up. The result - in a show at Kingston Gallery - delightfully defies our sense of what’s real: the glimmer of water, or the stand of trees?
         Lang is a Buddhist, and she succeeds in her intention to illustrate that what we believe is real is truly an illusion and may dissolve with the skip of a stone. The show needs editing: Too many of the photos are pat images of water, with not enough reflection. But when the reflection is strong, like “C&O Canal, Potomac River, Bethesda, MD,” the landscape flitting over the limpid water and the glimpse of grasses beneath the surface make a wonderful metaphor for the elusiveness of reality."   ---Cate McQuaid, Arts Critic, The Boston Globe, 12/20/03    

        “Mary Lang offers some startling, lovely photographs….A black and white photo shot in Auburndale shows speckles of snow on a frozen ground, with patterns of sunlight flitting over them.  It’s delectable; the rhythm of light played against the rhythm of white on dark makes this small photo into a thrilling little dance…That moment of quiet followed by a sparked imagination touches on the sacred.”  --Cate McQuaid, Arts Critic, The Boston Globe

From Critics and Curators:



“In addition to constructing reality, photography often captures those interstitial moments of reverie between periods of cognizance.  Due to its inherent grounding in the real world, a photograph has an enhanced ability to draw the viewer into this parallel dream world, simulating that childlike state of mind when the wall between the imagination and reality is very thin indeed.  The selection of pictures chosen for Wonderland is composed of images that transport the viewer beyond the immediate where, as in our dreams, we find both nightmare and delight.”  ---Yancey Richardson, Yancey Richardson Gallery



“Mary Lang’s black and white photographs of children are reminiscent of Sally Mann’s:  Both women present their subjects without gooey sentiment.  Lang shows her protagonists in their own world, sharing games and secrets that adults can only guess at.  The marvel of her work is that the children seem utterly unconscious of her intrusion.”   ----Christine Temin, Arts Critic, The Boston Globe



“Her true and telling photographs of the inner and private world of children reveal no hint that the young are aware of the intrusive, recording eye.  I don’t know how she does it.  ‘Home from School, 1990’ pictures a little troop of bookbag-luggers, each carrying three or four stalks and switches gathered on the trek home.  There is no clue as to the attraction nor the imagined use of these botanic wands, and we are left infused with nostalgia and wonderment, trying to remember how it was.”  ------Marty Carlock, critic/columnist, Harte-Hanks Newspapers



“Your photographs… made excellent additions to the Fogg’s collection of contemporary American photography of the domestic sphere.  I am particularly impressed with the manner in which your photographs are at once compelling vignettes, intelligently expanding the distance between adult and child perceptions of the surrounding environment (fantasy, imagination, mystery, cruelty), and are complex visual constructions which employ inventive formal strategies invigorating the larger meaning of the picture.”  ---Deborah Martin Kao, Curator of Photographs, Harvard University Art Museums


 “These pictures are part of a broader trend in American photography to seek not the grand and distant but rather the nearby and familiar.  Unlike many formalist photographers working around the 1970s, whose pictures seemed often to mock middle-class existence, Lang and her generation of photographers have looked around themselves with greater compassion and sympathy, finding in the ordinary cause not for disgust but rather for attentive and conscious reflection.”   --- John Pultz, Curator of Photography, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas at Lawrence

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