Garie Waltzer is dedicating her time at Light Work to finetune her Fugitive Landscape series, featuring exquisitely detailed black-and-white, large-scale images of civic spaces from sites around the world. While these images from public thoroughfares and places are technically microcosmic representations of large scenes—their size, details, and timing allows the viewer a unique window onto the cultural pulse of each site. As each image unfolds a unique place with its own rhythms, people and precedent, they also serve as complex chronologies that point to one another as parts of a single universe. Waltzer is making great use of our Syracuse winter weather to scan high-resolution files of her work in the series, as well as using our large-format Epson printers and staff expertise to test the transition from printing with carbon pigmented inks to Epson inks.
A New York City native, Waltzer holds a BA in Painting and an MFA in Photography from SUNY Buffalo. Her work is exhibited nationally and included in many private, corporate and museum collections. She is now based in Cleveland, OH, where she has developed, chaired and taught in the photography program at Cuyahoga Community College for many years. Waltzer travels often to make her work, as she puts it, “compelled by the sweet chaos of unknown places… recording to remember and understand.”
Garie Waltzer’s photographs record the fabric of civic landscapes, spaces made and inhabited over time, the stage sets of the quiet drama of human activity. The photographer (and the viewer) share the experience of the wanderer, those vivid first impressions of a “foreign” place, and the effort to make sense of the complexities of history and culture embedded within them. Shooting deep and broad, Waltzer is in pursuit of what the poet Alexander Pope referred to as the genius loci—the spirit of the place, its ineffable essence, the gestalt of the landscape.
In that exhilarating but confused first encounter, that moment of cultural disorientation and dislocation in a new place, the lens absorbs far more than the eye can digest. It captures in two dimensions the simultaneity of history, the elaborate patterns of human traffic, and the artifacts of habitation that comprise the meaning and culture of landscape.
That photographed moment exists in what V. S. Naipaul describes in The Enigma of Arrival as the tension between the seeing and the knowing, the anxiety of the stranger, and the wonder at the
particulars of the life of a place. Waltzer’s subjects are neither her home landscape, nor are they iconic, heroic, familiar, or banal sites. They are places of newness and discovery. To that moment, she brings all that we know of the vocabulary of made landscapes including architecture, movement, culture, occupation, and memory.
Waltzer has an uncanny skill in perceiving and then revealing those qualities of design, history, and usage that define the cultural landscape. It is revealed in the assertive formal symmetry of the Parisian boulevard, the scattershot crowds along the playground beach at Coney Island, and the confluence of the modernity and timelessness in a Shanghai intersection. She finds it as well in the alienating grandiosity of the spiderweb interior of a contemporary Tokyo office building, its scale clarified by the small army of generic businessmen in suits, traversing the lobby.
Embracing the whole of the action within the frame, the formal structure of both the landscape and the photograph is revealed, but the viewer is neither lost nor overwhelmed, as the totality invariably assumes a human scale. The elegant choreography of human activity is implicit in these sites, whether in the crowds of beach-goers at Coney Island, or the seeming synchronicity of the procession of bicyclists in a Shanghai intersection. These are the characters for whom the landscape exists, and their presence is a seamless organic reality, not an arbitrary or inconsequential embellishment.
The artful balance of scale of the figures to the landscape gives the images their most lyrical notes. Waltzer also formally reiterates human scale in the size she chooses to print her images. Her 22-inch-by-22-inch printing format approximates the width of her shoulders, and the visual field of the image feels appropriately intimate. The engaging, rich tonality of the carbon pigmented piezography inks on the warm white of the matte paper enhances the intimate quality of the photographs. We are drawn closer to investigate the seductive surface of the photograph, its elegant graphic quality more like an engraving than a photograph, perhaps an admiring and respectful homage to the beauty of the landscape.
The signature prospect of her photographs locates Waltzer, and the viewer, on a virtual piano nobile, the “noble plane” identified in Renaissance architecture as the optimal spot from which to view the landscape architecture. Like a Piranesi, this low-flying bird’s-eye-view, so particular to Waltzer’s approach, provides a vantage point neither remote as that of an aerial photographer nor as embedded as the pedestrian. She is outside the picture, but the human-scale particulars of the site are evident and accessible within the gestalt of the landscape. The privileged position from which we view these operatic sets, these complex landscapes—the pulse of energy, architecture, and occupation—are from neither center stage nor at the remove of the high balcony, but rather just above the fray, from the comfort of the loge.
Leslie Rose Close
Garie Waltzer lives in Cleveland, OH, and photographs in locations all over the world. She participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program in February 2008. Her work can be viewed at www.gariewaltzer.com.
Leslie Rose Close is a landscape historian. She was a founder of The Catalog of Landscape Records in the United States, now housed at the New York Botanical Garden. She is on the board of The Cultural Landscape Foundation