Published on August 28th, 2012 | by Angela Son0
Review of Judith Turner’s The Flatness of Ambiguity
Think of a time that you’ve been at an exhibition you’ve been meaning to check out for weeks: as you walk into the exhibition you admire the spotless, high ceiling and decide to work your way from the left wall around the room, keeping a regular distance from the artwork on the walls. You are looking at the pieces, but your eyes graze over them; suddenly, you realize that you are not quite sure what you are looking at – you are drawn closer to the pieces on the wall and you find yourself staring at each piece for minutes at a time in order to fully appreciate their depth.
This most accurately describes my experience at Judith Turner’s exhibit, “The Flatness of Ambiguity“ at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Turner, an avant-garde American photographer, is an expert at capturing the abstract beauty of architecture by playing with distorted angles, light, scale and perspective until viewers are not quite sure what the subject is. The exhibit featured 40 photographs that span Turner’s impressive three-decade career. She has photographed buildings by major architects of our time, including Shigeru Ban, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Louis Kahn and Fumihiko Maki.
Rather than photographing entire buildings, Turner’s black-and-white compositions focus on graceful lines and shadows of the architecture. By distorting the three dimensional buildings, Turner is able to disengage lines and shadows from their original meaning, capturing them in their raw form and transforming them into something new. For example, her interior shot of Frank Gehry’s Vitra Design studio in Germany resembles gentle ripples in a river. Turner also plays with her composition by placing the object above eye level, making her photographs seem all the more illusional. It is as though she knows the architect’s deeper intention because her photography hones in on the graceful details of individual shapes – or shapes within shapes – setting them off with shadows that break into one another. In a beautiful twist, the composition becomes more than just shapes and shadows, seeming more like thoughts – or something equally abstract – that are branching out from one another.
Another notable detail about Turner’s exhibit is its lack titles. All 40 works are listed as Untitled, yet she includes all the other essential information like the name and location of the building, name of the architect and year the photograph was taken. Perhaps this indicates that Turner didn’t want the interpretation of her works to be limited by titles, giving her more freedom to play with abstract shapes and shadows.
Many of her earlier works are more abstract and have a centerpiece to focus on – a point on top of a curvy rooftop, columns fading away to a central focal point and abstract shapes – while her later works are far more concrete. This is because most of her earlier works were taken with the camera zoomed in, focusing on one interesting point in the architecture. Her later works are more interested in playing with lines and shadow in the context of a larger landscape, making it easier to decipher more details about the subject. She seems especially interested in photographing spiral and linear stairs, creating exceptionally beautiful compositions just by taking photographs from different angles. But throughout it all, Turner’s work maintains her unique talent to find and capture exquisite beauty in the abstract.
To read more about Judith Turner, check out her book Between Spaces, which shows her architectural photography in the context of the featured buildings’ floor plans.