Gina Costa — ‘Ways of Seeing’ Exhibition

Much of the deceptively simple act of critically looking at photographs is comprised of the act of observation. I say deceptively simple, because we are constantly bombarded with imagery in our daily lives. How can one not help but look at photographs almost everywhere we go? The difference is not in how one merely looks, but how one critically looks with the power of observation. Costa’s images are about the observation of light and interpretation of meaning. She does not spell everything out for the viewer, but rather leaves if you were with her images in order to elicit interaction. One can enjoy the images visually of course, but their true strength lies in the ability to convey multiple meanings to multiple viewers..

Costa explores notions of memory, with strong ties to the classical references of time, light and space philosophically linking with memory. Beneath the foundation of ideas, intent and concept lies the importance placed upon the depiction of images and objects to conjure forth personal and shared memories. The empty room or empty chair can evoke a memory of a particular time, place or event, or impart the metaphor of an important person who is no longer living or otherwise present. Of course it can also represent an empty stage where anything could potentially happen. Her philosophical exploration of memory and beauty as it is applied to human nature and spirituality is echoed in the depiction of everyday scenes of empty spaces and weathered objects. Costa’s scenes help construct the emotional fabric of our collective memories. The result? Photographic images as interpretative artifacts that allow the viewer to take the journey of reconstructing or inventing memories along with the artist.

The Italian photographer and writer Luigi Ghirri, a particular influence of Costa’s, wrote a series of essays in the late 1960’s and 1970’s about the act and conceptual art of ‘looking’ — observing with the intent of drawing out information and meaning. Costa has embraced a photographic approach akin to Ghirri’s, and she extolls the virtue of images that are about keen observation without flamboyance. In practice as a photographer or as a teacher, Costa asks the critical question of the viewer: When you are looking through a camera or at an image, what do you see? Or, what is seen, not merely what is depicted? Similarly, a conceptual mastery of what to include or not include in the image is a distinctive feature of Costa’s work. Her process of visually editing what we don’t see is just as important as what is included when she selectively frames the world through her viewfinder.

A.D. Coleman wrote about the impetus for his own beginning of critically looking at photography: “I learned some crucial lessons about my own habits of looking and the nature of photographic seeing. Long attention to looking at a Paul Caponigro print Untitled, West Hartford, Connecticut, and that image, introduced me to the transformative potential of camera vision — its ability to help me look at things not only for what they are, but for what else they might be. It taught me, too, just how literalized and habitual my own perceptual tendencies had become, how important it was to be aware of my seeing, to achieve some critical distance from it.” Surely Costa draws from her mind’s visual encyclopedia of references in classical Renaissance painting, sculpture, and a wealth of Italian art seen throughout her life. Her process of looking, and observing, is informed by those subconscious images in the back of her mind — which in turn informs her work and her own camera vision; whether it is working quickly and intuitively, or with patient consideration.

In addition to the parallels drawn by her images of the commonplace and the interwoven complexities of recalled memory, Costa revels in the experience of capturing light as it illuminates, both literally and metaphorically, the objects and scenes that convey a multitude of associative layers of meaning. With a bit of Lee Friedlander, a bit of Helen Levitt, and a conceptual foundation of the aforementioned Luigi Ghirri — Costa sets out photographing not just specific themes, but glimpses of life and of places visited, as a minimalist urban diary. With a sense of wonder and deceptive simplicity, her work allows the viewer to reflect on their own past, their own history and memories, in order to give meaning to the everyday world with no specific prior knowledge; just discovering it fully based on prime feelings, and experiencing the joy of looking upon her elegant urban visions and modern landscapes.

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