Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Broken Glass by Ray Mortenson

Up at the Museum of the City of New York there is an exhibition by the photographer Ray Mortenson called Broken Glass and the small catalog accompanying the show is well worth your attention. Between 1982 and 1984 Mortenson photographed in New York's South Bronx neighborhoods describing the burned out and abandoned buildings that had become symbolic of the nation's urban economic collapse.

Mortenson, who has made beautiful images of natural forms in rocks, weeds, and trees that made bring to mind a sensibility akin to Paul Caponigro, has produced many softcover, staple-bound catalogs of his work over the past twenty years. Short and to the point, each represents a different body of work in an elegant and spare form.

In this latest, Broken Glass, Mortenson explores the desolate streets of the South Bronx, venturing into many of the buildings to record their current state of decay and often evidence of better times. Flower wallpaper still clings in defiance in a stairwell that has fallen to rubble. A stray dog searches for food on a street that could just as well be from London after the blitz let alone America 40 years later. In my favorite image, a flower backed chair has made its way outside to furnish an alleyway along with two over-turned pails. Courtyards are filled with garbage once thrown from windows and the occasional fire, started perhaps for an insurance claim, smolders turning the scene into the war zone that is all too easy to imagine.

This catalog is short at only 32 pages and 13 photographs but the quality of the printing (which is amazing) and cover materials are well worth the cost. A short essay by the Museum's Curator of Prints and Photographs, Sean Corcoran, introduces the work in a smart and thoughtful manner.