The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

A Contrived Wildness
Lauren Henkin
The Park
Ed Barnas
Photo by Lauren Henkin . Source:
Lauren Henkin, "The Park 30" 2013

Though trained as an architect, Lauren Henkin in known primarily as a landscape photographer. Her prior projects have used the landscape to explore the tension between preservation and extinction, whether it is nature photographed in the “wild” (This is Your Land), engulfing the rural detritus of human habitation (Remnants) or establishing a toehold back into urban space (Growth). While many today choose to record their impressions in color, Lauren Henkin continues the older tradition of abstracting visual experience into shades of gray.

Central Park, the focus of Lauren Henkin’s current exhibit, is a subject that has intrigued many photographers over the years. Though treasured by locals and tourists alike as a welcome oasis of nature in the rectangular street gird of Manhattan, it is, in fact, a manufactured space, carefully designed by Olmstead and Vaux to provide the city’s citizens with a rich variety of experiences, from manicured meadows to the wilds of the Ramble and the Ravine.

Photo by Lauren Henkin . Source:
Lauren Henkin, "The Park 35" 2013

Henkin explores these multiple landscapes in twenty-five black and white prints ranging in image size from 12x12 to 38x30. She seeks to show the park as it exists in the imagination, attempting to represent the grooves on the rocks along with the rock-climber, and the sunbather together with the feeling of “the sun on your back.” Unlike the majority of her earlier work where people are absent from the image, in these photos people populate most of them.

The urban setting of the park is evident in several, the expected backdrop of Manhattan skyscrapers somewhat grayed out in the distance. In one particular image (No. 31), it appears subtly reflected in a pool of water, obscured by foreground branches. But these distinctly urban clues are missing in the majority of the photos whose perspectives range from the close up through to the wide view.

Photo by Lauren Henkin . Source:
Lauren Henkin, "The Park 33" 2013

The un-urban wildness of the park comes through several of the photographs, particularly those recording the boulders and other detritus left behind by the retreat of ancient glaciers. In these images human figures appear but are dwarfed by these rocks. In some their presence is easily seen (the rock climbers in No. 33), but in others you need to look closely to spy the figures that seem to blend into the outcroppings (No. 7). It reminded me of the small human figures in some of the Hudson River School landscapes used to reinforce the immensity of nature.

Others are surreal in the juxtaposition of elements. In No. 2, a glacial erratic boulder sits at the edge of meadow looking like a giant reptilian head scanning the miniature sunbathers in the middle ground. In another (No. 14), a child sits covered in a stroller, only the legs visible, isolated in the middle ground with the closest people at the edges of the frame or deep in the background. One image, of a man lying face down in the grass near a row of bushes (No. 30), appears to reference the pivotal still from Antonioni’s film Blow-Up.

Photo by Lauren Henkin . Source:
Lauren Henkin, "The Park 12" 2013

Trees, of course, appear as a major element in a number of shots, whether as a prop for a reclining woman (No. 9) or a visual shadow puzzle created by the angle of the sun (No. 35). However, it was in the three close studies of tree trunks (Nos. 11, 12, 13) that I found the most interesting images of the show (these were also the largest images at 38 x 30 and the only silver gelatin prints). The bulbous, wrinkled surfaces of these tree trunks triggered a Rorschach-test-like response that I found intriguing, with various forms emerging within the trunks as I gazed at these prints. (I must admit that bulbous tree forms, particularly at the roots, as the subject of one of my own projects).

Photo by Lauren Henkin . Source:
Lauren Henkin, "The Park 24" 2013

This brings me to the last set of images – photos of sunbathers on the grass displayed in a 3x3 grid. Oblivious to the presence of the photographer pressing the shutter, the figures appear full length along a diagonal within the square image frame. Individually abstracted against the grass, they bring to mind Aaron Siskind’s series, “Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation.” As a group within the grid, they remind me of the abstracted forms of the Bechers’ typological grids of industrial landscapes. In this instance, the grid appears to be applied to abstract the anonymous human figure as a formal design element (in contrast to the grid display of August Sander’s work currently on display at Bruce Silverstein where the people pictured in the grids retain their individual personalities).

With their design of Central Park Olmstead and Vaux created a fertile ground of visual delight that continues to draw visual artists to it.

Lauren Henkin
The Park

Foley Gallery
97 Allen St.
Lower Manhattan - East         Map

212 244 9081

Wednesday, April 30 to
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Hours: Tues - Sat, 12 to 6

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