Artists have for millennia used water as a symbol of life and renewal. “Bodies of Water,” on view until March 11 at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, looks at how modern and contemporary photographers have incorporated water into their imagery as a way to examine environmental, societal or political issues. Drawn from the museum’s rich collection of photography, the exhibition features diverse work by several photographers, including Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Mary Mattingly, David Hilliard, David Armstrong, Susan Derges and such legends of the 20th century as Edward Weston and Charles “Teenie” Harris.
The show is organized around four themes. “A Return to the Womb” includes Karl Baden’s charming “First Bath 6/28/94,” which shows the tiny ankles and feet of a newborn about to be lowered into a tub. “Recreation” includes portraits, self-portraits and social documentary images that explore how we reveal ourselves when playing in pools or at the beach. Melissa Ann Pinney, who photographs the lives of women and girls, used a lake on a summer day to capture a teenage girl in a pose that captures the wistfulness and awkwardness of adolescence. Harris, who documented black life in Pittsburgh, is represented in the exhibition with a photo of a segregated swimming pool, a reminder of the controls that have been imposed on the simple pleasure of splashing about in water.
“Water Scarcity” shows how water is celebrated when it’s scarce. Paul D’Amato’s photo echoes many classic compositions: It shows a female figure reclining in water. But D’Amato, who has chronicled life in a Mexican community in Chicago, photographed a girl lying in a puddle on pavement to cool off on a summer day.
The section called “Dangerous Crossing” features an installation by Shimon Attie. Attie combined images of recent refugees who crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe and archival photos of Jews who were smuggled from Nazi-occupied Denmark to Norway on fishing boats, placed the images in cases that he submerged in water so the faces of exiles he photographed are visible just below the surface. The work is a reminder that water can represent peril as well as life.
—Holly Stuart Hughes
Joni Sternbach’s Sea Salt and Sky
Beyond the 2-D Print: Meghann Riepenhoff’s Evolving Cyanotypes (For PDN subscribers.)