Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

The Exposure of Light and Line

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

The Exposure of Light and Line

Article excerpt

For New York-based photographer Valdir Cruz, the view camera is an instrument for disclosure and interpretation, not simply a means of exposure and recording. Through an increasingly complex series of photographic studies, Cruz demonstrates the commitment of a cultural anthropologist and the patience of an artist. Cruz's work is distinguished by its observant and unaffected pictorialism, clarity of vision, and the high achievement of the printed image itself.

Born in Guarapuava in the southern Brazilian state of Parana, Cruz arrived in New York City in the late 1970s at the age of twenty-four. He found employment in a factory in Newark, New Jersey, working as a job-trained lathe operator, a trade requiring a high degree of mechanical ability and attentiveness. He became interested in photography through the work of George Stone in National Geographic magazine. Cruz began to study photography at the Germain School, and continued his investigations as a student of photographer George Tice at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. Carefully refining his technical abilities as an apprentice maker of prints, Cruz then worked with Tice in the authorized production of two important Edward Steichen portfolios, Juxtapositions (1986) and Blue Skies (1987). With this experience, Cruz dedicated himself and his resources to the realization of his own portfolio, Portfolio I, the contents of which catalog his interests: observant, sometimes picaresque portraiture, nude and architectural studies, animated, sometimes pictorial landscapes. In them he recalls the work of Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, and Edward Weston.

Cruz's work also seems to reference the tonal mastery of nineteenth-century photographers Charles Negre and Gustave Le Gray, the contemporaneous freely drawn qualities of light and line in the architectural studies of Louis-August and August-Rosalie Bisson and Edouard-Denis Baldus. The contemplative, keenly observant naturalism of Carlton Watkins is suggested in the authority of Cruz's 1987 photograph of a weathered stone riverbank. However, the thoroughly cinematographic, blurred motion of a 1985 image of a clapping dancer, Laurie Perricci, prefigures the spirits recorded in the long exposures of his more recent work. Like others of his generation, Cruz is surely a contemporary artist, with the assumed permission to call on the techniques of the masters of the past.

At least some of this harkening to nineteenth-century photography comes as a result of Cruz's choice of instrument, the view or field camera, and his use of specific darkroom processes, including the execution of palladium prints.

The aesthetic and technical qualities of Cruz's photographs are apparent with even casual observation, but the language of his imagery--his attentiveness to the field beyond the lens and his intentions as an artist--is a matter of another sort. The images in Portfolio I rehearse stages in his growth as photographer, concentrating on vernacular portrait studies taken in Missouri, landscape observations in Illinois, and architectural portraits in the Southwest. The portfolio also includes images of street theater and musicians, models, and subjects encountered during a Jamaican holiday.

The portfolio culminates in a powerful image, Landscape with Horses (1988). Earlier images, such as Rock River, point clearly in the direction that Cruz has continued to follow in his work, guided by a heightened awareness of the spirits that reside in everyday occurrences, places, and things. The white of the central figure in Landscape with Horses, a serenely grazing horse viewed on a grassy riverbank, is foregrounded by and reflected in the water. Perhaps a dozen other horses are barely discernable within a densely wooded pictorial space, thoroughly a part of an intricate tapestry of light and shadow.

This photograph segues seamlessly into later shots involving horses, but that are part of an ongoing interpretive document of the tropeiros, the cattle herders of Parana. …

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