Art review: Gail Goers turns backgrounds into subjects in new book and BCAC show, Muse | Arts

Art review: Gail Goers turns backgrounds into subjects in new book and BCAC show, Muse

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The cover of Gail Goers' photo book Muse, new from Carrboro press Daniel13 - GAIL GOERS / DANIEL 13
  • Gail Goers / Daniel 13
  • The cover of Gail Goers' photo book Muse, new from Carrboro press Daniel13
Gail Goers: Muse
Upfront Gallery at Bull City Arts Collaborative
Through April 12


Gail Goers leaves no space forgotten in her new photographic collection, Muse. Taken in Magdeburg, Germany and Guangzhou, China between 2009 and 2012, the images capture places and objects we often take for granted. Not a single photo has a person in it, and that’s the point.

When we see people, we think movement and energy; we focus on the object. The background becomes scenery, and we glaze over it. But Goers wants us to contemplate the background. The show’s title plays on the classical meaning of “muse” as the (usually male) artist’s (usually female) object of inspiration as well as the verb meaning “to gaze meditatively and wonderingly.”

Goers does the latter in this collection, capturing what might otherwise be considered industrial byproducts of the city-space: barges, manmade waterways, bus stops and dusty skylines. She photographs these objects on foot as she transverses her chosen landscapes. As human life dwindles from the spaces she photographs, the modern solitude of an empty city takes over. We’re reminded that the cities we build have a life of their own once we’ve left.

The process of observing spaces takes time and focus, which Goers recognizes is not an easy task. “Perhaps like the images in Muse, my own life is a product of allowing myself the time to muse in the present moment,” she says in her artist’s statement at Bull City Arts Collaborative's Upfront Gallery, run by Horse & Buggy Press. This meditative attention to detail, crucial to the photographer, pays off in more than engaging images, which Goers acknowledges: “Photography has opened up the world for me.”

Her photographs reflect the underlying density of her subject matter. A waterway bends and disappears into the faraway horizon. Bordered on both sides by concrete and a metal fence, the inlet leads to the center of a cluster of buildings, inconsistent in width and height. Some are difficult to make out through the thick haze. Power lines stretch across the frame and healthy green grass sprouts amid long patches of brown weeds. More details appear the longer you muse.

Goers’ frames often capture the layers and depth of a scene. Front and center in one image is a barge. The small ship grabs our attention, and the photograph initially seems to be about that object. But look beyond the ship to the horizon that disappears into the mist: The river pulls the viewer forward, requiring him or her to look longer than they had planned to. The depth of the scene attracts us to spend more time with it.

This show features six photographs, which is nowhere near enough. Luckily, more of Goers’ photography can be found on her website and in the 72-page book printed by Carrboro-based publisher Daniel13. Perhaps her work will inspire you to stop, look around and see your surroundings for what they are when people are not in the picture. You might be surprised by what you find.

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