George Tice: 60 Years of Photography

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George Tice, Mennonite Meeting House, Lancaster, PA, 1990

On view through November 23, this show at the Nailya Alexander Gallery is one of four exhibitions in a well-deserved celebration of the 75-year-old photographer this fall. The Newark Museum, William Paterson University, and Scott Nichols Gallery in San Francisco are all celebrating Tice’s contributions as a photographer, printer, and teacher. 

The photographs on view at Nailya Alexander range from 1953 to 2013, and all are breathtaking examples of the richness and depth of tonal range that that can be coaxed from a negative by a master printer, particularly one working with glass plates from an 8×10-inch view camera. Without exception, the prints are gorgeous, from the light-dappled wall in Mennonite Meeting House, 1990, to the velvety black night captured in the famous image of the lonesome Mobil station in Cherry Hill, NJ, 1974, an enormous water tower looming in the shadows. 

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George Tice, Petit’s Mobil Station, Cherry Hill, NJ, 1974

Tice is known for his decades-long elegy to his home state of New Jersey, focusing largely on such down-at-heel cities as Newark, Elizabeth, and most famously, Paterson, and such modest monuments as gas stations, water towers, and a White Castle in Rahway that glows like a beacon. (The work in his 1972 book, Paterson, was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the then-rare instance of a photographer receiving a solo show there.) 

Self-taught as a photographer, Tice was nonetheless clearly influenced by such American masters as Edward Weston and Edward Steichen, both of whose work he printed. (The Newark Museum show emphasizes his work as a master printer and teacher and includes a selection of work he printed for other photographers as well as work by such students as Sally Mann.) But as a tenth-generation New Jerseyan, Tice is often working close to home, studying the “sad beauty,” as he’s described it, to be found in the streets of those declining cities. What you won’t find in his photographs is condescension or irony. He photographs even the turreted White Castle – an easy mark in someone else’s hands — with as much regard as an elegantly simple Shaker pitcher sitting in a basin or the gnarled branches of a tree against a slate sky. It’s a poetics of place peculiar to Tice, from details like the light glinting off a row of sinks in an Atlantic City men’s room to the desolation of a single Volkswagon Beetle on a poorly lit country road in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, nearly swallowed by the night.