Copyright Debra Bloomfield, 2008 courtesy Chronicle Books
The subject of Debra Bloomfields latest book, Still, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books, is a series of oceanscapes; composed of part ocean and part sky with a horizon somewhere in between. Which is also to say that she treads softly on the edge of sentimentality and cliché. To Bloomfield’s credit, her photographs are not easily defined by a specific place and time, and avoid becoming stereotypical ocean sunset photographs.
Her oceanscapes were created at an undisclosed location over a period of seven years. Not present within these photographs is the surf rolling onto the shore or any coastal details that we might expect of an oceanscape. Likewise we do not actually see anyone present in these photographs, just traces of their presence by boats and aircraft. It appears that her straight photographs were made from a higher vantage point, an elevated perspective. Perhaps made on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, as well as overlooking other evidence of humanity. Bloomfield has isolated her focus on the interaction of just the ocean with the sky.
There are things that are also found within these oceanscapes that provide information about the pictorial scale, such as a flag in the near ground surf, a commercial aircraft in the sky or a sail boat on the horizon. Unlike a rigid uniformity of a series of Becher compositions, she places the horizon within her photographs to emphasize either the ocean, the sky or sometimes divide them equally. The horizontal division shifts for each composition, depending on the environmental conditions. Has the tide receded to reveal some underlying reef patterns, has the sky become stormy with atmospheric clouds that dance within her frame, or has the sun just set and left behind an explosion of color? It appears that she uses these oceanscapes in an attempt to create metaphors and an equivalence in emotional feelings, in the tradition of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock and Minor White.
Many of her photographs have incorporated a longer duration of time as an element of her photographic process. Unlike Michael Kenna who masks his long night exposures with an overcast sky, we see within Bloomfield’s oceanscapes the pattern streaks of stars, planets and moon. Another effect of her long exposures is to flatten the ocean surface, eliminating the details of surf and waves, which blends and melds the colors. The clouds in the skies become soft blurs. Extending the duration of her exposures makes the content of her photographs seem more abstract. Subsequently her photographs seem timeless and less about documenting an actual place.
Central to the mood within these photographs is the light and broad variety of color palettes. From the almost monochromatic whites, grays and blues, to high saturation color, such as a orange sky that occurs after the sun has set. In between these extremes are lyrical soft pastels, amazing cobalt blues, and intense blue-greens I usually associate with the Caribbean.
The patterns of the cloud formations and artifacts within these oceanscapes, although interesting, seem secondary to the light and space. The rocky reefs at low tide create shapes and patterns similar to images made by the Abstract Expressionist. There are sharply defined cloud formations on the horizon, rapidly approaching clouds ushering in a storm front, moody high contrast scenes created by an approaching storm and the softness of a far fog bank that is slowly creeping onto shore. But it is the colors and the use of space that maintains my attention.
Her photographs evoke a range of emotional responses for me. Her monochromatic and subdued colors create a meditative state, that allows for a wonderful and peacefully pause. I sense the solitude that Bloomfield writes about experiencing when she was creating these photographs. For other photographs, I sense a dynamic tension, that alerts my senses.
Over the years, it appears that she has become attune to her external environmental conditions in order to create a pictorial equivalence of her own feelings.
The photographs are printed one per page, usually on one page per spread, with a small white border that provides adequate breathing room for each photograph. The book contains an interview of Bloomfield by Corey Keller and an essay by Terry Tempest Williams.