June 12, 2011

In the Arts: Farnsworth pays tribute to a master – Paul Caponigro


"The Hidden Presence of Places" is a respectful bow to a pre-eminent American artist, photographer Paul Caponigro. A large and beautifully composed effort by the Farnsworth, the show traces the work of a man whose presence in photography increases as the weight of that form diminishes.

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By Paul Caponigro: “Inner Trilithon, Sunrise, Stonehenge,” 1970.

Photos courtesy Farnsworth Art Museum

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By Paul Caponigro: “Two Pears, Cushing, Maine,” 1999.

Additional Photos Below



WHERE: Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum St., Rockland. 596-6457

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Sunday; until 8 p.m. Wednesday and First Friday

CLOSES: Oct. 9


WHERE: Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 62 Russell Ave., Rockport. 236-2875

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

CLOSES: July 10

As classic photography – a system of producing images through the manipulation of optics, light-sensitized material and chemistry – continues its ineluctable decline, a master such as Caponigro moves further into the realm of the giants.

This grand event portrays the benefits conferred on him by a lineage leading through Edward Weston and Minor White and his assumption of the burdens that accompany them. To create empathetic images that are wholly dependent on the tuning of the eye and in the ultimate mastery of classic techniques is his continuing obligation to history and to the art form itself.

That Caponigro has acquitted himself brilliantly on both counts is a long-established fact. This splendid exhibition reminds us of that achievement.

Inevitably, however, the event is touched by nostalgia – not for Caponigro, who continues to make pictures with depth and gravity, but for the art as we have received it. It reminds us that the photography that we have known has been deprived of much of what succeeding generations would have added to it. Technologic cleverness is a poor trade for the brand of integrity assumed by Caponigro.

The exhibition is presented in a sequence of sections coincident with the sequence of his career. It carries the viewer through the intuitions in his early images of the natural world made in Massachusetts (he was born in Boston and has lived in Cushing for several decades), his adjustment from the East to the West Coast, his travels with Minor White in the West and their excursions into Zen, his return to the East and Boston, his intervals in Ireland in the 1960s, in Japan in the 1970s, among the megaliths of Collanish in the Hebrides in 1972, his work at Stonehenge in that year and in the years 1967 and 1970, his images in France in 1987, and a great deal more.

Some of his works that fit into these venues and have since achieved iconic status are absent from this exhibition. I have in mind the running deer of County Wicklow made in 1967, the image of the root-encumbered tree at Avebury of the same year, and most of the wonder-infused images of Stonehenge.

I assume that the absences were intended to give focus to lesser-seen examples of his work, particularly those that exemplify a seeking of silence. As a whole, the exhibition can be thought of as stations in such a search.

This is easily seen in immaculate still lifes such as "Two Pears" (1999) and "Abalone on Paper" (2009), and as easily in his work on the ancient Celtic churches of Ireland. They sit in unyielding severity, staunch, silent, judgmental. Here, I have in mind the magnificent "Clonfert, Romanesque Door" (1967).

The silence in his temples at Kyoto is more gentle and internal. It considers the floor at Tofukuji, so worn down by shoeless feet that its knots form a private topography, and the heart-touching Hiei-San Temple, almost formless in the early mist. Neither appear to have ever spoken. Perhaps they were built in silence.

This is a magnificent tribute to an artist who, for every good reason, has been given the museum's 2011 Maine in America Award. His contributions to the art of photography can sometimes, in the words of Kenneth Clark, appear to be the divine agitation of the creative artist.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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By Paul Caponigro: “Sand Garden, Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto, Japan,” 1976.


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