Heather Guess, Writing on the Wall, 2010, Digital Print, 59 in x 20 in (149.86 cm x 50.8 cm)

Heather Guess, Writing on the Wall, 2010, Digital Print, 59 in x 20 in (149.86 cm x 50.8 cm)

Heather Guess’s inaugural solo show is a tale of two cities that stars New York and Cleveland. That the artist maintains a dual residency in both cities, this body of work can also be considered a self-portrait with two distinct sides. Central to the theme of this show are cityscapes, upon which the artist has cast a fresh light by renaming them “Urban Landscapes.”   These photographs naturally divide into two realms: images of New York City and of Cleveland.  Guess’s New York series portrays a compendium of forms and buildings that comprise the large metropolis, whereas the artist’s Cleveland series seeks to reveal the truth behind the city rather than reflect its current public facade. Underscoring this binary exploration are images that depict fragments of the whole, while others translate realistic elements such as machinery or scaffolding into recondite renderings. Guess’s photographs are large format compositions that experiment with cropping, light, texture and perspective.

At the beginning of the 1920s, the United States was converting from wartime to a peacetime economy. The popularity of the automobile and the construction of roads and highways brought tremendous economic prosperity. The decade’s industrial boom lured thousands of American field workers off the farm and into burgeoning cities.  As a result, for the first time in American history, more people were living in cities than on farms. Renowned American street photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Edward Steichen (1879-1973) and Paul Strand (1890-1976) sought to document this sea change in straightforward, black and white compositions.   Their avant-garde approach and process championed a new kind of photography that ultimately elevated its status to the same level as painting.  Formalistic minimal portraits of New York City, shots of everyday street life, and abstracted images of flora and plants all produced a tremendous impact in the canon of art.  Not only did these pioneer Modernist photographers break new ground, but they also constructed a national mirror in which all of its participants could see their reflection.

Heather Guess, Crossing, 2010, Digital print, 20 in x 48 in (50.8 cm x 121.92 cm)

Heather Guess, Crossing, 2010, Digital print, 20 in x 48 in (50.8 cm x 121.92 cm)

Today, the urban areas that were created during 20th century industrial booms remain fairly well preserved in New York City; however, the majority of these areas in Cleveland have crumbled and decayed. Designed as an industrial town, downtown Cleveland is abundant with old railroads, factories and waterfront ports of Lake Erie.  At the rise of the Industrial Revolution, Cleveland became a manufacturing center based on its location, as well as a leader of numerous railroad lines. Suburbanization changed the city in the late 1960s and 1970s, when financial difficulties and a notorious 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River challenged the city. With the decline of heavy manufacturing, Cleveland’s businesses have been relegated mainly into the service economy.  Since the 1980s, the city has worked to improve its infrastructure, diversify its economy, and invest in the arts.  Currently, Cleveland is considered an exemplar for public-private partnerships,  downtown revitalization, and urban renaissance.  However, much of its history remains dilapidated and untouched in the downtown sector.

New York, the “Empire State,” has been at the center of American politics, finance, industry, transportation and culture since the Dutch Republic first founded New Amsterdam as a trading colony in the 17th century. By 1790, New York had become the largest U.S. city, and by 1825, with the opening of the Erie Canal (which linked New York with the Great Lakes) it led to even greater expansion. In 1898 a new charter was adopted, annointing the city as Greater New York, and a metropolis of five boroughs. While numerous districts and landmarks define the city—Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Chinatown, Times Square, United Nations Headquarters, and Central Park—Manhattan’s skyline is universally recognized for its famous, prominent profile. The city has been home to several of the tallest buildings in the world, which include Empire State Building, Woolworth Building, Twin Towers, Seagram Building and Chrysler Building. Today, New York City estimated population is 8.3 million. Manhattan continues to be a leading global force due to its foothold on a myriad of educational, financial, cultural and artistic sectors. Everyday, people visit and move to Manhattan to experience its abundance of offerings.  Native New Yorkers are a proud, rare breed, that seldom leave the great city into which they were born.

 

Heather Guess, Obstruction 1, 2010, Digital print, 12 in x 48 in (30.48 cm x 121.92 cm)

Heather Guess, Obstruction 1, 2010, Digital print, 12 in x 48 in (30.48 cm x 121.92 cm)

Having canvassed much of downtown Cleveland and Manhattan, Guess’s photographs portray untold stories of abandoned buildings, structures, and relics.   Through the lens of abstraction, Guess’s photographic eye highlights details in everyday objects that would otherwise go unnoticed. Whether it be rust on the back of a truck or a crisp silhouette of shadows, many of the artist’s images document the slippage between what man has left behind and what nature has taken over. Yet, Guess’s images bear no judgment; rather they reveal an interest in structure.

Download PDF version: urban-landscapes-2010-catalogue-essay-by-heather-zises-for-heather-guess-photography

 

Echo, 2010

This portrait of New York reveals a fascinating interplay between modern and contemporary architecture. Rendered in grayscale, this image depicts a visual puzzle of true and reflected reality.  Captured between three glass panels is a distorted reflection of a modern brick building with graffiti, a street lamp and a banner.  This illusion seemingly taunts the older building by transforming it into a jagged structure with a hunchback. The semblance of this curved shape echoes and rhymes with the arch of the lamppost as if to unite them as relics from the past. The banner that has been fastened to the street lamp underscores this ageist notion with the phrase “NYC SEE” inviting all viewers to participate in the mockery.  Furthermore, the glowing white graffiti that has been scrawled across the modern building top spells out “YOUTH” backwards, as if to signify the driving force behind this hardened gaze. Guess’ composition poses the question as to whether it is through the looking glass that is our true reality as opposed to the material world.

Heather Guess, Echo 2010, Chinatown NYC, 48 in x 33 in (121.92 cm x 83.82 cm)

Heather Guess, Echo 2010, Chinatown NYC, 48 in x 33 in (121.92 cm x 83.82 cm)

Download PDF version: echo-urban-abstractions-catalogue-essay-by-heather-zises