Saretzky's "Dreams of Italy" in West Long Branch

January-February 2001




Kenneth Kaplowitz

Associate Professor of Art

The College of New Jersey


If you have lived in New Jersey, you have probably seen the photographs of Gary Saretzky. Saretzky has exhibited his work in more than 100 shows in museums, universities, libraries and other public spaces for more than 25 years. Don't miss his "Dreams of Italy," now on view at the West Long Branch Public Library. An expanded version of a1998 exhibit at the City Museum of Trenton, this show consists of more than two dozen color and black-and-white photographs. Rarely does one see an exhibit that so perfectly evokes the beauty and pathos of the Italian people and landscape.


Saretzky, who pursues several simultaneous careers as an archivist, fine art photographer, and photohistorian, produces imagery as varied as his interests. Many of his one-man shows consist of images that relate through formal continuity rather than through place or time. By contrast, this exhibit depicting Italy consists of two parts, each at first glance so different that one might think they were made by two different photographers. Only after viewing the exhibit as a whole does the viewer realize that there is a consistent emotional tone throughout that reflects a single artist's vision.


When one enters the library gallery, one is immediately drawn to a large color Iris print facing the door, "Verona Gate." This image of the open gate invites us to enter and see Italy with the eyes of a remarkably sensitive and thoughtful photographer. Surrounding "Verona Gate" are a series of small, exquisite color images made with the Polaroid transfer process that one viewer of the exhibit in Trenton characterized as "eye candy." The technique is reminiscent of the multiple gum bichromate prints made by the Pictorialist photographers a century ago. Included here is a lovely landscape of Lake Barrea in Abruzzi National Park, Italy's version of Yellowstone.


In his essay which accompanies "Dreams of Italy," Saretzky writes that the Polaroid transfer "process arouses the intellect and emotions because it references our prior experience of seeing both photographs and paintings. It combines the realistic element of the former with the more subjective inflection of the latter." The suppression of detail and muted colors inherent in this process directly reference the "Dreams" theme in the title of the exhibit.


Surrounding the color work, on opposite walls, are more than a dozen large black-and-white photographs. Black-and-white photography is another way of abstracting reality that allows the artist to create a picture rather than a mere view of a moment in time. The series begins with an image of the artist's diary and a cup of cappucino, setting the stage for a series of reflections on life in Italy. By and large, the life Saretzky depicts consists of moments of quiet beauty in historical or traditional contexts, rather than the hustle and bustle of modern-day commercial Italy, which is present mainly as an element of tension within the ideal "dream."


Several photographs include references to the role of traditional religion in Italian life. Perhaps the most poignant is of a funeral in Sorrento in which a distraught widow, supported by her sons, is seen walking behind the hearse which carries her husband to the cemetery.


Other images show how even the most mundane objects can be transformed by Mediterranean light and an artist's eye into an astonishing picture. In the 1840s, one of the inventors of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot, demonstrated the power of photography through his famous image, "The Open Door," which turned a very modest broom into an icon of photographic history. In "Cuocculo," Saretzky performs similar magic with a shovel in a wheelbarrow. The sunlight caresses the handle of the shovel like the first kiss of a lover one never can forget.


"Dreams of Italy" continues at the West Long Branch Public Library, 95 Poplar Avenue, until February 25, 2001, when the artist will greet the public from 10:30 to noon. For exhibition hours, call 732-222-5993.

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