WATER in Seattle: Richard Misrach, Harry Callahan, & Hiroshi Sugimoto reflect on the human relationship

Winston Wächter
May 22, 2016 1:36AM

How do you consolidate 60 years of photography focused on a universal theme such as water? Winston Wächter Fine Art Seattle has succeeded beautifully and elegantly with their group exhibition featuring Hiroshi Sugimoto, Richard Misrach and Harry Callahan. Each artist has a unique point of view and conversation with the viewer, yet there is a continuous narrative running throughout the exhibition. We are presented intimate reflections on the human need to return to the water and build community there; with the complex relationship we all have with water and the peace that comes with surrender to it; finally with the vastness of the universe as a whole and our need for air and water to sustain life.

Harry Callahan, Cape Cod, 1972. Copyright The Estate of Harry Callahan; courtesy of Pace/MacGill, New York

We begin with the intimate photographs of Harry Callahan and are given small windows into the memories of the artist. The images were all deeply personal for Callahan, taken at a family home on Lake Michigan and the beaches of Cape Cod, yet the date and exact location are undeterminable. He captured shared moments that are not only timeless, but translate across cultures. Throughout time and the globe humans have gone to the sea for solitude and community. The challenge of fully capturing this is what kept Callahan returning to this subject throughout his career.

Richard Misrach, Untitled (July 28, 2012 3:57PM), 2012, Copyright Richard Misrach.

Similarly, Richard Misrach saw the ocean as something directly related to humans. His rare figurative series crisply focuses on individuals, adrift in the vastness, giving no indication if they are moving towards or away from the shore. One couple floats hand in hand, completely giving into the sensation of surrender, while another image captures a young woman seemingly in a struggle between her need for control and her understanding that the sea is beyond her power. There is a comforting calm and an overwhelming power in the ocean. Misrach captures both facets, and his large scale work brings the viewer into that moment to consider their instinctual response. 

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sea of Japan, Rueben Island, 1996, Copyright Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery 

Hiroshi Sugimoto takes the conversation one step further. He reminds us of our scale, relationship to the universe as a whole, and our biological need for air and water to survive. His photographs present us with endless space, equally divided with what is above and below. Each half is intended to be a mystery. Enhancing this sensation is the impact of light, and in some instances lack of. Our experience is transformed from the visible recognition of our surroundings to the emptiness of the dark. None of Sugimoto’s photographs reference to location, time or interference by man, only what is beyond. We are alone with forces of life. 

The exploration of water’s relationship to man will no doubt continue. For those living in Seattle it is an unconscious aspect of life. Perhaps that is why Winston Wächter Seattle was able to create such a striking exhibition. The conversation continues May 18 – July 12, 2016 at 203 Dexter Avenue North, Seattle, WA.  

By Jessica Shea

Winston Wächter