It’s a strange week that a film or television show isn’t being shot on the corner of the street where I live in Brooklyn. I think it was Ruskin who said any attempt to separate Italy’s Venice from tourism missed the whole point of Venice. It’s equally hopeless to attempt to detach New York from the cinematic city, the backlot and backdrop for so many romantic comedies and CGI destruction spectacles, but, in another and much more inspiring way, New York is movie-like for the cuts and rapid scene changes of daily life: bedroom to street to subway, a glimpse of the Chrysler Building, elevator to corridor to office, all within seventeen minutes. Unlike suburban or country life’s slow dissolves where backyards give way to farmland fading into multipurpose hangouts in the woods to actual wilderness (usually experienced from the frame of a car window), the most bracing of New York’s jump-cuts is the step from any sidewalk into Central or, in the case of the photographs collected here, Prospect Park. This is sudden nature, like flipping to another channel to the middle of a different movie; it takes a minute to figure out where you are, what’s going on.
Irina Rozovsky’s park-life stitches together near perfect days, near Hollywood-grade golden light to close the loop on the immersive version of romanticism suggested by Fredrick Law Olmstead’s 1858 vision and design. “Prospect Park” would be too good, too easy a title for photographs that describe a landscape of refuge and fleeting intimacies. Rozovsky’s title, In Plain Air, hints at values that connect the nineteenth-century plein-air painter’s advocacy for “being there,” the park’s democratic invitation to make yourself at home, and the plain style approach of Walker Evans in photographing the declarative nature of public life.
Every park is a theme park, ordered or artfully “natural.” Built by dictators or occupied by anarchists they are the perfect stage and backdrop for competing visions of public life and private needs. The big city public parks have been fertile ground for photographers of in-between states: Eugène Atget’s contemplation of time and transition at St. Cloud, Tod Papageorge’s allegories of innocence and experience in Central Park, Rineke Dijkstra’s monumentally fragile portraits of children waiting for Frisbees on public lawns. Rozovsky adds a chapter to this tradition by accepting the park itself as a fiction, a fantasy, and a simulation. Prospect is photographed as a scrappy newly declared country populated by young lovers, spiritual seekers, fisherman, aristocrats, and a utopian diversity of cultures. A figure ambiguously probes the lake with a long branch, a child crouched in a brambles is either hiding or trapped, an isolated figure with arms outstretched, scarecrow-like appears caught by the same invisible forces that men in another photograph are attempting to manipulate through some form of martial art. Gatherings appear ritualized, religion seems perfectly natural, and the binding atmosphere from portraits to landscapes describe a hushed, emotional deep focus reverie that I most associate with the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Terrence Malik.
Stephen Shore, reflecting on his evolution as an artist, said that finally photography was only a by-product of a larger investigation. I can only assume that a Russian-born, Boston-raised photographer who has spent significant amounts of time in Israel, and more recently Cuba, is at least partially motivated by an interest in how cultures, politics, security, and private aspirations coexist. Whatever the case, Irina Rozovsky’s investigation continues to deliver reliable witnesses and magical evidence.
John Pilson is a photographer and video artist. His work has been exhibited widely nationally and internationally. He is a faculty member in Bard College’s photography program and a critic at the Yale University School of Art
Irina Rozovsky lives in Brooklyn, NY, and completed her residency at Light Work in August 2012.www.irinar.com