Michael Flomen, Dark Waters @Denny

JTF (just the facts): A total of 3 black and white photographs, framed in black steel/wood and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the smaller second gallery space. All of the works are toned gelatin silver photograms, made in 2015 and 2016. Physical sizes range from roughly 14×11 to 84×56 inches, and all of the works are unique. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: While a show of just three works can’t offer much more than a summary introduction to an artist’s approach and aesthetics, this small selection of recent works by the Canadian photographer Michael Flomen hits the high points of what separates his images from the rest of the burgeoning process-centric genre of contemporary photography.

Water is the central force in these new pictures, from the falling droplets of a rainstorm to the water’s edge pools and rippled waves found in New York’s Central Park. Working at night, Flomen makes performative photograms that use the available light (the stars, the moon, and other ambient sources) and the motion of the water to alter the surface of the photographic paper. The works mix the physicality of intentional personal interaction with the serendipity of nature, creating images that capture an elusive sense of mystery.

The largest work in the show is dappled with the splashes and spots of rain, the drips creating splatters and sparkles that wash across the surface like a vision of the universe. The smaller works have some of the same watery characteristics, but with more foamy pinpricks of fading light. Each has a sense of primitive creation, and that elemental quality is amplified by the rough crumpling of the paper. The direct touch of the artist found in the crushing (and in some cases tearing) of the paper brings a sense of textural violence to the otherwise delicate images, the end results a manifestation of both serene nature and improvisational uncontrolled energy.

Flomen’s works fit into a photographic niche inhabited by Susan Derges, Meghann Riepenhoff, and Matthew Brandt, among others. Each has used river, sea, or lake water in the making of photographs/photograms, and has incorporated a particular specificity of place into the conception and execution of their works. While wrangling sheets of photographic paper in and out of outdoor water connects all of these artists, Flomen seems to have deliberately introduced even more physicality to his process, making his works more steeped in personal interaction and an intimate response to the environment. They feel intensely active (and reactive), crackling with both creation and destruction.

This hands-on participation pushes Flomen’s photographs toward the expressiveness of Mariah Robertson, where each work feels like an open-ended chance-driven performance. As a result, he seems to have nestled into an in-between space in the photogram landscape, integrating two largely separate lines of artistic thinking.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at $3000, $5000, and $36000, based on size. Flomen’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option form those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Published by Aperture in 2024 (here). Softcover with dust jacket (17 x 22.5 cm), 124 pages, with 80 color and black-and-white reproductions. Includes a conversation between ... Read on.

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