Kenneth Josephson @Gitterman

JTF (just the facts): A total of 37 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung against white walls in the jagged single room gallery space. Nearly all of the works on view are vintage gelatin silver prints, made between 1959 and 2001. No specific size or edition information was available on the checklist, but most of the prints were no larger than 11×14. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Kenneth Josephson’s second show at Gitterman Gallery goes beyond the photographer’s best known work and digs into the lesser known corners of his long image making career. Aside from a few recognizable gems (the car silhouette in snow, the spots of light on  pedestrians, and a handful of conceptual photographs of photographs), the works on view will be unfamiliar to most. It’s a smart edit, balancing Josephson’s high contrast Chicago city abstractions with more nuanced experimentation with light in nature.

The earliest nature pictures Josephson made come from the late 1950s and use changing focus in multiple exposures to create ghostly glows and auras around trees in the forest. The ethereal light seems to emanate from the trees themselves, like highlights or wispy motion. These ideas quickly evolved into pictures within pictures of sawn tree trunks or rocks on the beach, and leaves arranged as interventions against brick walls and paper backgrounds. Fast forward a decade or two, and Josephson’s interest in nature has moved back into the wild, toward the light that dapples the forest, picking out groups of plants that are spotlit against the enveloping darkness. He took this idea one step further a few years later by actually painting a selection of leaves bright white to make them stand out with more force, bringing a layer of rich conceptual thinking (a little like John Pfahl’s altered landscapes) back into his approach. His later landscape compositions alternate between soft subtleties of light and texture in mixed greenery and the stark lines of billowing white birch trunks against dark evergreen backgrounds.

The few city scenes in this show offer more examples of Josephson’s investigations of light, albeit with the rigid geometries and patterns of built forms as subject matter. A cropped upward view of the repetitions of stone windows becomes an array of gridded dots, while the traceries of a patchwork chain link fence stand like filaments against flat whiteness offset by lush (well printed) detail in the dark area underneath. Even a shopping cart can be the fodder for a light experiment, the metal frame becoming a pattern of interlocking white lines.

The value of this show comes in its ability to make us think more broadly about Josephson’s talents. We already know the Chicago ID Josephson and the witty conceptual Josephson, and this show adds the nature Josephson but in a context that allows us to see the connections and common motifs that run through all three. It proves the nature pictures have been there all along, and that they are as complex and intellectually thoughtful as his more familiar work.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $3500 and $10000, with most of the works set either at $5000 or $6000. Josephson’s work has been only intermittently available in the secondary markets in recent years, with only a handful of lots coming up for sale in any given year. Prices have ranged from $1000 to $12000, with a few higher priced lots going unsold.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by MACK Books (here). Hardcover, 17 x 21 cm, 192 pages, with 87 color and black-and-white photographs. Includes texts by the artist and ... Read on.

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