CONVERSATION WITH GEORGE LAWSON ON ARTSY:
TAMA HOCHBAUM AND ERIN LAWLOR AT GEORGE LAWSON GALLERY
by Kenneth Baker
San Francisco Chronicle
TAMA HOCHBAUM fills the larger space at Lawson with a series of “sublimation prints” on aluminum. Taking advantage of this process that can infuse metal surfaces with digital output, Hochbaum has produced grids of black and white imagery — really black and silver, thanks to the aluminum substrates — that will have the impact of flashbacks on viewers of a certain age.
Hochbaum found source material in the Hollywood classics that her elderly, now deceased, mother had enjoyed watching in movie houses when some of them were first released, and finally on television by broadcast or in translation by newer media.
Hochbaum sometimes watched these classics with her mother and later went on watching them alone in what evolved into a ritual of mourning and remembrance.
She began using her iPhone to skim screen shots from the video playbacks and then culled from them to form the grids of imagery that fill the wall-mounted works on view.
At a glance or at a distance, Hochbaum’s staccato imagery has the impact of abstraction, with dynamic conjunctions and ruptures of form where cells of the pictorial grids abut.
The selection comes from a larger body of work soon to be published in hardcover by Daylight Books: It focuses on dance numbers. In panels such as “Fred” (2015) and “Nicholas Brothers I” (2015), the eye has to do dances of its own to take in the details of the works’ content.
Hochbaum drills through time and media, looking back decades through digital files and cathode-ray video to celluloid in a metaphor for cultural memory entwining personal history that is startlingly powerful.
A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES
By Chris Vitiello
You have to make an appointment to see photographer Tama Hochbaum's Silver Screen at Hillsborough's Daylight Project Space through Aug. 22. It's worth it. Hochbaum shot close-ups of classic movie stars off a television to honor the memory of her mother, with whom she used to get on the phone to watch movies together.
Hochbaum printed the photographs on aluminum so that the images appear almost solarized, drawing in some of the underlying blue of the television screen. Most striking are extreme close-ups of Greta Garbo in the film Camille. Her parted lips, seen in blurred profile, create an ecstatic female form in the negative space of the background. Her eye, shot so close that the gridded glass of the screen looks like a storm window, becomes radial architecture beneath thick lashes and a penciled eyebrow.
Shot from oblique angles with an iPhone, Hochbaum's skewed and blurred images nonetheless have specificity and emotional power. Silver Screen is neither a salute to classic stars nor a meditation upon stardom; it's a personal testament to the connections that people make through shared experiences of movies.
TAMA HOCHBAUM: PHOTOGRAPHS
By Bill Bush
Huffington Post; This Artweek, L.A.
Tama Hochbaum + Patti Oleon: Photographs and Paintings | Originally from New York, Tama Hochbaum currently lives and works in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For the past several years she has used a soft focus, monochromatic palette and quasi-cubist compositions to offer up the sense impressions of her immediate surroundings and family. In this body of work she has turned her lens inward, constructing something of a dream journal of her vigilance in caring for her mother in her battle with old age and early stage Alzheimer’s. Deeply personal, this imagery captures at once the struggle to hold on to memory along with a certain willingness to let memory fade. Train journeys record a receding past; self-portraits become an overlay of ancestors; even an evening in front of the television provides an umbilical link to a familial history. Using dance as a metaphor, Hochbaum addresses the most difficult of questions, and in the process affirms her place in an ever-shifting continuum.
MY MOTHER AND THE SILVER SCREEN
By Tama Hochbaum
SILVER SCREEN; published by Daylight Books
My mother loved the movies. I imagine she took great joy in the adventure of a trip to the cinema as a teenager in New York City in the 1930’s; I know for a fact she adored the quiet thrill of the short trip from her bed to her comfortable chair to watch the films of her youth as a woman in her 80’s and very early 90’s. From the comfort of the recliner we had bought together for her bedroom she could see the digitized celluloid of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s broadcast on the screen of my own youth, the TV screen. In this book, for this entire project, I have taken my iPhone, the screen of my daughter’s generation, and shot the stars that my mother loved. I have shot them in the dark of my room, my own private cinema, alone with their images, just as she had been, while watching at the end of her life. I have shot them with love, with respect, with passion, grabbing fleeting images as they flickered and danced, as the stars emoted, prevailed, fell in love, desired the forbidden, nursed the stricken, smelled the camellias, staggered in the dark, did the can-can, fell from a ferris wheel, hovered in shadows, saw the light.
I shot everything on these pages after the death of my mother in 2012. There was/is a beauty in the act of capturing moments of these films, or sequences of moments; each time it becomes an act of both love and loss, a struggle to hold on to memory and an understanding of the futility of such a struggle, a willingness to let memory fade. There is a simultaneous endeavor in the capture - on the one hand there is a documenting of my own deep and specific love of the stars, the look, the moodiness, the drama of the films from the era of the Silver Screen, a looking to the past, to the younger Adele, my mother, and through her, to my father who had died 38 years before. On the other hand that looking to the past coincides with the capturing of the ‘now’ of it all, this moment, now this one, an action of the present, an operation of the absolute new, a preoccupation with the very immediate.
Camille was my mother’s favorite movie, Garbo her favorite star, though Lauren Bacall, nee Betty Joan Perske, came in a close second. And who would be surprised by that; she was, like my mother, a “nice Jewish girl from New York”. My mother was 16 when Camille first appeared in the theaters. I can imagine the thrill of seeing that movie as a girl becoming a woman. As it turned out, I would not watch Camille until after my mother died, didn’t have the chance or desire to search it out till after she was gone. Watching that film 2 1/2 months after her death would lead me to watch all the others. Turner Classic Movie channel was my avenue to the past, my link to an inheritance, a legacy of joy in the almost exclusively black and white movies of the first half of the 20th century. An afternoon or evening in front of the TV, iPhone in hand, grabbing screen shots as they flew by, became a way to both fulfill my own desire to record and transform cultural icons and a cinematographer’s and director’s vision, and simultaneously to honor my mother. This was an activity we both took great pleasure in, she just by sitting and watching, and I, after her death, by somehow possessing these films, shooting screen after screen, moment by moment, attempting to embrace the whole of it, and hence hold on to memory itself. Could I keep her alive a bit longer by photographing what she loved? My sister and I found envelopes full of old photo booth photos of our mother after she died. This spunky girl of 14, the young lady of 16, 20 - I felt we would have been friends. I love the spark I see in her impish smile.
The image of Garbo on the cover of this book was the generator of my Silver Screen endeavor. The rest would follow; more Garbo - Grand Hotel, which also starred a young Joan Crawford who appears in these pages as well. Bette Davis in Jezebel, a movie that I saw with my mother on the giant flat TV screen in what was called ‘The Theater’ in her last residence, the Independent Senior Living facility she had moved into at 84. She was Independent when she moved in; shortly thereafter she was not. We watched Jezebel together on one of my visits there, watched as Bette Davis danced with Henry Fonda in the red dress she had bought, rather than the traditional white one, to spite her fiancé for abandoning her, a choice that costs her their engagement, his love. That particular dance in that particular dress is so incredibly fraught with anguish, I cringed in my seat, there, next to my mother in the front row. I was the youngest one there by 30 years at least but I sensed I was as engaged by it as anyone. I loved the sweep and breadth of that movie, the extraordinary array of emotions this actress could portray with a slow blink of her enormous eyes. I rejoiced when I saw that it was being broadcast on TCM, now my umbilical link to these films, a few months after my mother died. We used to each watch TCM, she in New York, I in North Carolina where I had moved with my family in 1996, and sometimes confer about a particularly poignant film. This was in the years before she began loosing her center. Often we would talk at the end of the day and if I hadn’t watched that day, she would tell me what she had seen, the actor or actress who starred in the film and I would google the name and the storyline and tell her the title if she couldn’t remember. Though she had been a legal secretary for 10 years before she married, including a stint with the Actor’s Guild in New York, she was averse to using the computer we had bought for her, dependent in the last years of her life on her care givers and her daughters.
The end of my mother’s life was both comfortable and fraught, dealing, as she was, with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, exacerbated by a fall from an out of control wheelchair onto the pavement in front of her doctor’s office. Once she recovered from the broken bones and the trauma of rehab, her confusion increased; she would ask for a New York City phone book so she could find her parents’ phone number, wanting to speak to her own mother. She was 90 then, my mother, and needed to be reminded of that by Odelia, the kindest of her caregivers. She would also suffer anew the death of my father as if it had occurred that morning, though it had been almost 4 decades since he had died. But in her confused state she would also rediscover each morning that her oldest child, my sister, had found love again; each morning it could be new, this realization of deep love in midlife for her first born.
Though I do not know for sure - we never spoke of it specifically, I can imagine these films were a reminder not only of her journey from girlhood to womanhood, but triggers to the memory of her own first love, her husband, my dad. He was 17 years older than she; not quite the span of years between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, but quite a difference for any woman, and she was, by then, in her late twenties. He was established in his profession and eager to marry. They would wed three months after they met. A whirlwind romance if ever there was one. These movies from her younger days were familiar touchstones, happy associations, a connection to an easier time, before her own mother became ill and she would nurse her until she died, a time before her husband also became sick. She was 52 when he was diagnosed, 53 when he died of the cancer discovered the previous year. She was only 43 when he lost his leg to the first diagnosis of cancer.
I am also referencing my own beginnings as an artist with this project - I was a printmaker in college where I discovered myself as an artist. I worked as an etcher then, in black and white, on aluminum plates in a small space with an acid bath that ate away at a surface, printing positives from what were essentially negative plates, a process not unlike my beginnings as a photographer in the darkroom. That beginning came only after 20 years as a painter. My early work as a printmaker was all tied up with family, memory, loss, photography. The piece I see as my first true artistic work was an etching of my family. I drew my ancestors, my grandparents and my father as a young boy, working from photographs, with trees and columns winding their way through their bodies and the picture plane. The format is square, a shape I only returned to once I became a photographer, and almost exclusively in this project - I had abandoned it for many years for the rectangle of the imagined painterly window. The faces are the faces of my family, ones I had lost already and would lose in the coming year. There is a sweet and sorrowful look in these faces of my relations, a look that approximates the countenances of the stars I present here, that same poignancy, that same falling into shadow. They look ahead, my grandfather, my zeyde, as Lillian Gish does in the last single image in the book, and Garbo in the first, or askance, my toddler father, my grandmother I never knew, dreamily so, in her case, as most often they do here in these pages, these stars, these icons. There is longing in my relative’s demeanor, and a directness, that each actress or actor embodies. We are not related, per se, these Silver Screen stars and I, but they have become my family, nonetheless.
TAMA HOCHBAUM: SILVER SCREEN
By Amy White
SILVER SCREEN; published by Daylight Books
This image of Garbo leaves us breathless. Emergent goddess, transhuman, she’s rendered in epic distortion: the pearlescent glowing expanse of the forehead, the spectacular arches of perfectly penciled eyebrows, architecture of eye sockets inset with palest eyes, their gaze adrift in a sidelong glance, studded/stuttering hoop pearl earrings that catch the light. The luminous glow gives way to imperfections, accretions of dirtlike pixelations around the staggeringly serene painted mouth. The particulate shimmer suggests erosion and senescence and connects the image to something earthbound, fragile, mortal – susceptible to the forces of time.
Tama Hochbaum’s Garbo 2 (2013), and her Silver Screen series, was born of the confluence of a singular life event and a life practice of voracious image-making. Her work has tended to be a synthesis of biographical coordinates: time, place and happenstance. Works evolve from a process of shooting wherever she goes, continually extracting images of elegance and visual power from the lifeworld as it streams past. After Hochbaum’s mother died in 2012, she began to immerse herself in her mother’s last great passion – watching classic American movies on TV. It is as if the act of watching these films was taking up where her mother left off, fulfilling an action that had been abandoned. But it wasn’t enough merely to watch the films. Something had to be captured. It was only natural that Hochbaum would turn her lens to this unfolding moment of loss, snatching images from the past as they were broadcast in the present to create something new.
Thus began a process of watching and shooting, turning the inherently passive condition of television viewing into a form of generative action. Hochbaum took up the technology most easily to hand – her cell phone – and began this highly charged series of shimmering ethereal presences, caught in real time as the films aired. These are not freeze frames. The artist does not have a DVR. The images are the result of the artist getting physically close to the TV screen and catching images as they flow by. No pause button; a corollary for life and mortality.
The work in the Silver Screen series takes the form of either single images, generally focused studies of actors’ faces, or grids of loosely contiguous shots of unfolding scenes. The grids lay bare the anatomy of a sequence, functioning as a kind of inverse Muyerbridge, rendering static what has already been memorialized in filmic motion. Despite the velocity of acquisition of the individual images, the grids cumulatively produce a sense of expanded time, dilated time, opening to an awareness of infinite variation. Each captured millisecond reveals a different shade of narrative tone and emotional dimension.
Camille/Kiss (2012-2014) is an almost forensic analysis of the moments leading up to a highly stylized supercharged screen kiss. Hochbaum generates a complex sense of immanence and ambiguity, apprehension and desire, by closing in on fractured details of Garbo’s face – eyes, cheekbones, mouth. This quasi-voyeuristic mode of visual interrogation pushes the feeling of intimacy beyond the intentions of the original medium to an almost discomfiting level. The feature film was designed to grip crowds of hundreds at a time. Gathered en masse in majestic cinematic cathedrals, the audience gazed up at wall-sized faces that served as monumental conduits of drama and romance. Camille/Kiss and other works in this series reflect the relatively diminutive confines of domestic space and the human-scale proportions of the television screen. Hochbaum transgresses the sanctioned buffer zone between viewer and TV screen, closing in on the action to bring back the spoils of her craft – an infinity of psychological fragments that she then pieces together in gridded reconfigurations and isolates in psychically freighted portraiture.
Hochbaum performs a kind of virtual tourism of these constructed realms, entering mythic cinema space and free ranging, stumbling upon Garbo in perfect profile (Garbo/Mata Hari (2012)). Black shroud around the actress, black shadowy pools in the corners of the composition – it is impossible to discern which gestures of artifice are proper to the original film and which are those superimposed on the image by the artist. Hochbaum unapologetically implements the consumer app Hipstamatic. With its prefab “films” and “lenses,” including the faux filmic filter, Claunch Monochrome, Hochbaum doubles down on artifice, deriving multivalent cinematic echoes.
These images take on additional power when we realize that they are the result of real-time documentation, grabbed from the ether as the movie unspooled, never to be reduplicated. Lauren 1 (2013) would have been a powerful image if we didn't know how it was made, but there is a sense of awe surrounding the splitsecond necessity of its facture. Here, Hochbaum’s close cropping and distortion give way to a shift in our perception of scale. The graceful armature of Bacall's facial/skeletal structure takes on sense of vast sunken depths, carved out canyons, barren expanses – the human face as landscape.
The eye is a focal point of many works in the series. Several of the autonomous images as well as individual cells within the grids feature a single eye, establishing a one-to-one connection between captured eye and capturing lens. Swimming in sparkle, Audrey/Wait (2012) features Audrey Hepburn's disembodied eye. It becomes the eye of a whale, the eye of a storm, an all-seeing blind eye – a heavy-lidded glimpse of something real coming at us through a filter of shimmering artificiality. Transcendent of the human face, another work with an eye as the central figure, Garbo’s Vision (2014) serves as an epic sunrise, a luminous dawning. The lights and darks of its gridded pixellations suggest a burst of realization.
The compositional foundation – and the aesthetic currency – of the Silver Screen series is the close-up. Giles Deleuze writes that the close-up “…abstracts [its subject] from all spatio-temporal co-ordinates, that is to say it raises it to the state of Entity.” Several of Hochbaum’s images simultaneously retain traces of their famous physiognomies but exist in a liminal space, cropped close, voided of context, floating in a dissociative realm that undermines stable identity. Ingrid 2 (2013) closes in on the actress’s face, closer than a close-up. The form washes across the frame, the pictorial residue of motion and speed. With a thrilling distortion that suggests monstrousness or agonized grief, Bergman’s face fades into nothingness just as a flicker of emotion registers. The face, expanded beyond the confines of bodied form, inhabits a pixelated mesh, digitally interwoven in darks and lights – a moment of isolated transition.
Cinema has been an enduring source of inspiration for visual artists. Joseph Cornell’s tributes to silent screen actresses, Andy Warhol’s celebrity portraits, Barbara Kruger’s C-movie appropriations and John Baldessari’s riffs on film noir – the movies have been a trove for an ongoing conversation about contemporaneity. Hochbaum complicates references to classic American cinema by filtering it through a deeply personal moment of loss. But rather than registering a narrow tonal range, the works of Silver Screen cover a vast emotional continuum, from the placid-yet-transgressive morphology of Lauren/Key Largo (2013) to the tormented tensility of Brando/On The Waterfront III (2013) to the sublime radiance of this book’s cover image, Garbo 1 (2012). Hochbaum's choreographic grids that feature Fred Astaire and the Nicholas Brothers explode with a vital syncopation of imagery. These contrapuntal visual scores pulse with the energy of their cinematic counterparts. They serve as cartographic diagrams of the artist immersed in swing-time rhythmic patterns, in step with the action and tuned into the full spectrum of human emotion that reverberates even within our darkest moments.
The Silver Screen series works through innumerable silvery screens – the epic cinema screens of majestic movie palaces of the past, the domestic diminution of home TV screens where early black and white films still flicker late into the night and the screens of the smartphones we hold in the palms of our hands. Through this process there is a filtering through time, through optical distortion, through the torque of our imaginations. The end result is a subtle reminder that the originary silver screen is the mirror, with its reflective surface and silver backing, which reflects us back to ourselves.
- Amy White
UNDERSTATED DRAMAS; PHOTOGRAPHS OF TAMA HOCHBAUM
By Christopher Mills
IF KAYAFAS’S STILL LIFES and landscapes suggest portraits — the Havana balcony with its hanging clothes, the stretch of white crosses along an empty Mississippi road — Tama Hochbaum’s portraits suggest still lifes. In her current work, Hochbaum shoots close-ups of a variety of flowers and slightly less proximate pictures of her eight-year-old daughter, Claire. Yet emptiness in the form of large expanses of white space is at least as important as content in nearly all of her frames, giving both her flowers and her offspring the feel of something vaporous.
Hochbaum’s interest in form (as opposed to Kayafas’s interest in humanity) drives her image making. In one series of four photos, Hochbaum allows only traces of Claire’s body to be seen. In one picture, eyes look out from a largely obliterated face; in another, feet rise into the air as if they were balloons about to float away. The effect is both gentle and gently disconcerting. What we see of the girl in these painterly, mellifluent, almost abstract photos at times suggests the remains from a plane crash, so much is missing. Hochbaum’s flowers — they range in size from about three to 30 inches — are frothy, delicate, sexual confections that enjoy the shadowy richness of graphite.