The whiteness of snow and the cold, stark beauty of winter have been enduring subjects for photography, and this exhibit captures the magic of winter photography from the medium's early days well into the present. There is something timeless about winter images, especially in the depiction of a blanketing snow that seems to purify and eternalize any landscape, be it rural or urban.
Thus, these photographs convey a familiar yet never tiresome aura, all of them in black-and-white and many of them beautifully composed studies of bare trees nobly enduring a snowy cover. The deceptive ease with which these masters of the camera photograph the light-reflecting whiteness of snow is an abiding strength of these images, which range from the minimal--with wispy branches the only interruptions in a field of white--to richly detailed studies of tree trunks and snow-covered roads, their darkly parallel tire tracks echoing the vertical parallels of the trees.
Indeed, the high-contrast typicality of winter landscapes has a way of eliding the particulars of time and place and effacing the usual distinctions between pre-modern, modern and post-modern photography. There is very little, if anything, that distinguishes the world's-apart decades of the 1930s, when Frank Heller shot his rural winter scenes, and the current one, in which Petr Helbich brings a wonderful eye for picturesque perspective to his snowbound visions. Winter even brings out the traditionalist in Man Ray, whose shots of friends and family in Arizona bow to the simple charms of snow-flecked trees and cozy cottages.
Intensely atmospheric, of course, are the images of urban winter, as snow lines the riverbanks of great cities like London, or edges the rooftops of New York, or as the suggestion of a deep freeze conveyed by icy tree branches and a chain-link fences renders the architecture of an old Czech Republic apartment building metaphorically forbidding and politically charged.
Mainly, though, it is the pure lyricism of winter scenes that defines these engaging images--be they of the craggy mountain vistas of the snow-kissed Swiss Alps or the vast drama of a frozen Niagara Falls, of children on sleds or skaters whirling on ice. The powerfully plain black-and-white of winter, and the strong sense of sanctuary from the cold--in the homes and structures from which chimney-smoke so invitingly twists--has never failed to inspire photographers, yielding a collectable body of work that this exhibit samples widely and well.