Judy is a photographer and a humanitarian. Both of these interests have been fused in her pursuit of her art, and in this way she is unlike any other. As we encounter her photographs we realize her overarching love and regard for the medium. Whether she is seizing the world of the light created by infrared film, magically turning day into night, or finding mystery in everyday images, her humanity becomes integral with the photographic process.
I first came across Judy and her photographs many years ago through the body of her work around her exploration and concern for Danish citizens who had rescued Jews during the Holocaust. I had seen other documentary work on the general theme of the Holocaust, but these were not straightforward pictures. Judy found a way to change the world in photographic terms, which in turn engendered psychological changes. These were no ordinary photographs—I was at once engaged.
A few years later, Judy informed me that she made other photographs in and around Maine. The challenge of the darkness surrounding her Danish rescue photos did not prepare me for the light-drenched dreams these images revealed. Now I could imagine Judy taking time from her daily routine and wandering about her Great Diamond Island home and surrounding woods, looking, discovering, imagining, and finally rendering—a transformative process, to say the least, that takes the viewer from the mundane to the sublime.
Again, it is the alchemy of photography to which she is in service. And her knowledge and familiarity with what is possible allow for a deeply contemplative and fascinating experience for the viewer.
Her journey continues to the death camps of Poland, to Israel and the Middle East, then to Cuba. Judy is chasing spirits and ghosts. Her camera is finding them in shadows, in light, reflecting from places unseen. En masse, her search reveals so much. You thought you knew these people, but now there is dimension. You have seen other photographs of that place, but it never looked like this. A staircase becomes molten and infirm. You look in but feel as if you are looking out. Shadows become animated and the world is simply other than you thought.
Eventually, Judy’s search turns inward. Much has been said about how photographs can reveal an inner truth. When we contemplate her most recent self-portraits, one understands that in a lifetime of photographs this search, subconscious or not, has always been the point of her photography.
Yet we never lose touch with reality, or concern for mankind. Judy’s ability to resolve this dichotomy is why her work compels and begs us both to question and to comprehend. Her journey and ours are the same.
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
One of the more moving images I’ve seen in a while is “Bird Migration, Quebec, 1998″, above, at “Upon Reflection”, through September 30 at the University of New England Gallery of Art. It’s a exhibit of 73 framed black and white works by Judy Ellis Glickman, the earliest image dated 1985, and 7 face-mounted color prints that partner with a slideshow in the downstairs gallery featuring a further 62 color images all from her current and ongoing explorations using color. “Bird Migration” struck me like a thunderbolt - a succinct and deceptively simple 13.5″x 19″ visual statement that defines the vastness of the universe at large and the natural world’s complete acceptance of its organized chaos. And then I saw it - the kicker: a tiny, classic homestead at the bottom right on the horizon line. Within the vastness, is that irrepressible, ever present human existence. Me.
There are things for all viewers to learn in this exhibit, photographers and those of us who are only passionate about photographs. Glickman is very strong in the composition department, as evidenced by an early image “Shaker Doors, Sabathday Lake, Maine, 1987″. Her understanding of light, and in particular partnering with the infrared approach (difficult to reproduce effectively here), while from other photographers can seem gimmicky, is frankly exceptionally successful. The Great Diamond Island series, all infrared exposures, is one of the strongest groups of works in the exhibit, although the two dinghy shots seem out of place and distracting to me for several reasons. This series was shot over ten years, from 1985 – 1995 and “Island Glen, Great Diamond Island, Maine, 1986″, above, is simply nothing short of exquisite. The image is so elysian, it makes me hold my breath when studying it, so as not to mar the picture’s effect with my own imperfect humanity.
While I’ve written mostly about the emotional and aesthetic fall-out of this exhibit, it’s important to note the excellent print quality of the works themselves. Glickman’s longtime assistant Melonie Bennett is responsible for the black and white prints, and the 7 color prints are the work of David Segre of Zero Station. Photographers will come away from this exhibit greatly inspired. But all of us who seek life’s larger meaning through powerful works of art will come away with fuller hearts for having rested here.
“Judy is a photographer and a humanitarian,” writes Howard Greenberg, of the Howard Greenberg Gallery in NYC, in his introductory essay included in the exhibit’s extensive catalog. And that explains a lot about the viewer’s experience at this exhibit. I found a tenderness in many of the works displayed, but I sensed immediately it came from within the photographer herself, rather than a mood she uses technology to create.
Judy Ellis Glickman got her start as a photographer in the 70′s and her early training included a workshop at Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine. But the story really starts with her father Dr. Irving Bennett Ellis (1902-1977) – a highly regarded pictorialist photographer in California. As his daughter (and frequent model), she also met some of his colleagues – Ansel Adams and Edward Weston included. An auspicious start and one that would stick with you!
UNE Gallery Director Anne B. Zill writes that “Judy Glickman’s photographs are never predictable…” and the diversity of subjects covered in this exhibit bear that statement out. Glickman uses only natural or available light when she shoots and “sometimes uses film that also records the infrared rays of light existent in our atmosphere.”
Another characteristic that makes many of these images unforgettable is expressed by exhibit Curator Stephen Halpert when he writes, “We are no longer outside the image, but move through the glass and into it…”. My heart seemed to stop when I stood in front of several of Glickman’s images of Holocaust concentration camps. These are not of the in-your-face “LOOK AT THIS AND BE SHOCKED” variety: if ever the viewer will enter pictures in this exhibit, it is with these, as the artist has so completely substituted her camera for your own eyes it is uncanny. You are absolutely there, and the ability of the photographer to transport you so completely almost makes it difficult to breathe at times.
Included in the exhibit are 60 color images (seven of them face-mounted, which I love, and then framed, which I don’t), billed as “abstracts”. I’m not sure I agree with the label, but I think they are important for several reasons, not the least of which because here is an example of a veteran artist turning a major corner with her work and exploring it very, very deeply and without timidity or apology.
The move to this body of work using color, and very strong color at that, and the hook that the photographer herself is included in every one of the images, is obviously of the deepest importance to Glickman. But whatever her reason for taking this new path, in the end it is unimportant to the viewer, because successful art, regardless of the personal meaning that motivates and inspires it, is, in the end, universal.
The Photography of Judy Ellis Glickman
Judy Glickman has been immersed in photography virtually since birth. Daughter of Irving Bennett Ellis, an accomplished West Coast photographer, she participated in his work from her early childhood as his sometime subject and inspiration, and she began to absorb his lessons. In the 1970s Judy spent an intensive week at the Maine Photographic Workshop in Rockport, learning ‚ darkroom techniques and shooting black-and-white film. That experience sparked further photographic studies at ucla, the Maine Photographic Workshops, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and Maine College of Art. She also started acquiring a serious collection of the work of others. Their subjects and their methods resonated with interests of her own: the beauty of both the natural world and the built environment, man’s capacity for goodness and horrendous evil, formal and informal spirituality, the innocence of children.
What is it in Judy’s photographs that takes us so quickly past her great skills to something deeper? That takes us back to an image a third or fifth or seventh time? Past admiration to something like a sense of being there? We are no longer outside the image but move through the glass and into it, sometimes painfully, as with her transporting us to the Holocaust, to that irony when beauty and horror merge: when the aesthetic composition of converging railroad tracks terrifies us because we know where the tracks are heading. Why does infrared make images from the camps more ominous and other-worldly, while the same technique makes the Great Diamond Island photographs so softly atmospheric? One frightens us, the other makes us want to live there. Whatever questions I am not answering, I find that even beyond the force and meaning of individual photographs, some groupings of them can assert a collective power, as though in a narrative way they gather, informing one another.
Always with camera, Judy has traveled widely, constantly discovering, finding all the world her subject: Israeli children in the street, the carved wonder of Petra, Venice under water, church architecture in Abiquiu, café life in Istanbul, street stall vendors in Jordan, landscape, migrating birds, reflections. Her startling capture of a street sweeper at the Western Wall is both humorous and shocking—all those prayers and messages simply swept away. Lately she has been exploring color and abstraction as she ventures into new territory. Permeating it all is her own compassion, humanism, identity—her sense of how uplifting, how tragic, how interesting, how astonishing is this world we share. These are photographs that expand our experience, our sympathy, our understanding. They enlarge our world and we linger there, grateful for them.
Professor Emeritus, University of New England