92nd Street Y: Milton J. Weill Art Gallery
1395 Lexington Avenue at 92ned Street
212-415-5563 for Gallery Hours
September 5 – October 22, 2012
Photographs seems like cruel slices from the past, frozen images of what will never be again. Since we assume the photographic image is, by and large, a factual view of some reality, it is inherently believed and trusted. But now be forewarned. It ain’t necessarily so. Bill Aron’s new images at the 92nd Street Y betray and beguile so as to force us to reassess the meaning of what we see.
The passage through time is a core human experience, not to mention a fundamental Jewish structure. Halacha is deeply time bound, changing every seven days to reflect Shabbos and cycling through the year to encounter holidays, memorials and reflections that make up the fabric of Jewish life. Each day-time demands different actions or restraints from Jewish life; when to pray, when to work or not, when to laugh and when to cry unfold in a constant flow of future, present and past. How this continuum encounters photography is the subject of Bill Aron’s current fascinating exhibition.
The majority of Aron’s photographs here are “multi-image panoramas.” They are created by taking multiple digital exposures, sometimes scanning a scene up to 360 degrees and at times revisiting it over several days, and then seamlessly stitching them together to create what at first seems like one unified image. He invented this technique in a thoughtful response to the challenge of contemporary digital photography. Western Wall Plaza at Night is an excellent introduction to this methodology.
The 9 ¾” by 40” wide photograph cannot be realistically seen in one glimpse. To do that one must stand back a few feet which causes much detail to become indiscernible. As you get closer it becomes necessary to scan back and forth to accommodate the photo’s width. Even that is not totally satisfactory and so walking along the image becomes the ideal way to take it all in, thereby forcing the viewer to mimic how an actual viewer of the scene would have to shift focus and position to take in the panorama. But it is in the very content of the image that time begins to flow.
The ancient Western Wall becomes the timeless pivot through which the dusk into night scene seems to evolve, passing from the glowing pink of sunset on the left to the rich darks of night on the right of the image. Significantly the dark sky is punctuated by a burst of fireworks that emphasize the complete arrival of nighttime. In this one image we have traveled through a halachically crucial time; what is called “Bein Hashmashos.” It turns out that this image is not about a specific past event, but thanks to the “eternal” nature of this architecture, i.e. the Western Wall, is about a perpetually recurring event, the interlude between day and night in Jewish practice.
Aron’s most intriguing images involve the dialogue between static architecture and people passing through a scene who by their multiple images, once we notice them, invoke the passage of time. Crucial to his methodology is the viewer’s tendency to view an image casually at first and to see repetition in a photograph as normative and not significant. With Bill Aron’s work that is a big mistake.
Western Wall Plaza During the Day initially looks like a ragged-edged panoramic snapshot. Upon closer examination of the 10” x 40” image, (with all its complications described above) we notice a kind of visual echo reverberating through the image. Looking closely we see repetitions; three figures in red reappear approaching the Wall, first from afar and then closer and closer. Other random individuals reappear in other unexpected repeated positions. Perhaps these are simply individuals in a tour group dressed alike or yeshiva boys and girls, all dressed in a kind of uniform. But looking carefully these figures are too much alike. In fact in almost all cases, it is the same person at different locations literally advancing through time. The viewer slowly understands that this image is manipulated to drag us through time moving forward. This image transcends stop-time photography because the visual context overwhelmingly tries to convince us that it is but a momentary snapshot. It is not – neither internally in its own image nor when seen juxtaposed with Western Wall Plaza at Night, a nearly identical composition and perspective. They are both grounded in the eternal Temple Mount but radically separated by night and day depicting time’s passage itself.Richard McBee