Dolby Chadwick Gallery is pleased to announce “Uncharted Waters,” an exhibition of new work by Barbara Vaughn, on view from November 2 to December 2. This show addresses changes in environmental, social, and immigration policies promulgated by the new administration.
Over the past five years, Vaughn has explored abstraction and different modes of seeing by photographing harbors and canals in locations across the world. Each split-second, closely cropped capture of the surface of a given body of water—and its consequent reflections—features elliptical and biomorphic forms, undulating movement, and often bold color palettes. The subject matter is not immediately recognizable as water, let alone the natural world.
The works in “Uncharted Waters” utilize these same processes but incorporate narrative elements that furnish them with a new and urgent subtext. Vaughn describes these photographs as her response to our current leadership and the seismic shifts of the past year, with each individual work speaking to an issue at stake. To underscore our uncertain course and questionable navigation, portions of the show are installed on top of nautical charts that span the gallery walls.
The contemporary mood is shown to be literally in the water in Turbulence, a polyptych from 2017. Here, jagged and highly charged forms, created by a wind-abraded surface, are in stark contrast to Vaughn’s typically smooth, fluid oscillations. Like electrical currents, vibrating lines surge across the photographs, signaling a changing tide. Other works gesture more specifically toward topical concerns. Mexican Wall (2017), for example, features a diverse suite of color blocks representing different places around the world—a reference to the immigration and “wall” debate. In Pride (2017), on the other hand, the palette evokes the rainbow flag adopted by the LGBT community, while Red, Black & Blue (2017) suggests the widespread alienation and “bruising” brought about by “red” party politics.
Environmental degradation is the mainspring of the “Marine Debris” series, which offers a complicated tableau of the beautiful and the tragic. Vaughn explains how she previously avoided shooting trash in the water, waiting for it to float out of her frame before clicking the shutter. In this series, she boldly embraces the detritus in an effort to document such intrusions—and our offending role—in an otherwise beautiful convergence of water, wind, and light. Her “signal flag” triptych S-O-S (2017) underscores similar concerns, harnessing maritime flags to convey a coded message about the environment. Each of the three photographs depicts choppy ocean waves that have been blurred by a long exposure. A flag has been printed directly onto the Plexiglass glazing above each image; together they spell out the international symbol of distress denoted by the work’s title.
Water, Vaughn’s chosen subject matter, speaks to us all, sounding an alarm. By shoring up our convictions, and our exasperations, it prompts a call to action.
Barbara Vaughn was born in 1960, in Philadelphia, PA. She earned her BA from Princeton University and later studied fine art photography at the International Center of Photography in New York. Vaughn has photographed leading figures in the entertainment, business, and art worlds, and her work has appeared in high-profile books and periodicals such as the New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Art in America. Her fine art has been exhibited in galleries across the United States as well as abroad. This will be Vaughn’s third solo exhibition at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery.