“I consider photography to be both a tool for escape and an instrument for self-knowledge: a door into the dark,” writes Lauren Semivan in the statement for her series, Pitch, on view at Benrubi Gallery through August 25.
Indeed, Semivan’s photographs are postcards from a strange, subconscious universe of her own design, one where fact and fiction, reality and dreams beguilingly blur. Pitch is Semivan’s second exhibition at Benrubi in four years. Her first, Observatory, marked the appearance of a fully formed aesthetic, characterized by its gloomy tonality and otherworldliness. Pitch is a logical and confident expansion of that vision. It is more abstract than Observatory and a little darker. The images are less cluttered and they contain a smaller human presence, but the landscape feels just as full.
Semivan creates staged environments from a range of materials, including string, wire, paper, and translucent fabric. The occasional piece of furniture brings some of the photographs down to earth, giving them a sense of physical place. On the rare occasion that Semivan herself appears in an image, her face or body are obscured, suggesting some unnamed interior turmoil.
Semivan photographs these constructions with an early 20th-century 8 x 10-inch view camera, then scans and prints the large-format negatives. In its mysteriousness and grittiness, its interplay of light and shadow, her work has something in common with that of Joel-Peter Witkin. Her vision, however, is less campy and more lyrical. It skips the stark terror of Witkin’s world in favor of an overcast moodiness.
Like Imagist poetry, Semivan’s photos are more about the emotions and the sensations they evoke than the narratives they conjure. In her statement, she extracts the various definitions of the series’ title to associate the work with a variety of images: “the blackness of night in winter,” “the height and angle of a roof,” “a steep mountain standing at an immeasurable distance,” and “the frequency of sound.”
The personal and psychological nature of this work means that the deeper meaning of some of these images may only truly be known to Semivan herself. But that’s fine. There’s more than enough here for viewers to open their own door to the dark, and see what self-knowledge awaits them there.