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On Our Coffee Tables:
Gowanus Waters

BOOK: Gowanus Waters

AUTHOR: Steven Hirsch

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2016

REVIEW:

Steven Hirsch’s abstract photography of the Gowanas Canal is collected in this handsome volume, and the images (almost entirely devoid of context) are exquisite.

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Years ago, Hirsch was walking along the canal’s banks and noticed the beautiful and ephemeral appearances of oil slicks, of pollutants on the surface of the water…and so he began photographing them, with vivid and lovely results.

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Chronos(2014)
Chronos (2014), Steven Hirsch

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The canal is now, at long last, being cleaned up (it is a Superfund site) and so these brief moments of beauty are becoming rare. We can, of course, hope, that another form of beauty (a more natural beauty) will soon emerge. In the meantime, here we are in 2016 and, as is usual, things are in a state of transition.

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Aphrodite-(2014)
Aphrodite (2014), Steve Hirsch

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There are two competing narratives describing the changes to New York City over the last few decades. For some, the dirty old city was full of surprises, full of life, art, and creativity. That which was colorful, unclean, exciting, free, and anarchic has given way to a city that’s a sanitized version of its former self, a playground for the rich, clean, yet oddly dull and sterile. It’s harder and harder to find a dive bar, or even a neighborhood place. There’s a Starbucks on every corner. This is true.

For others, New York City was truly a concrete jungle; menacing, criminal, dangerous, covered in graffiti, unruly, ungovernable, and foul. It’s now safer, cleaner, and has beautiful parks and public spaces, Disney extravaganzas in Broadway theatres, more high-rise luxury apartments than ever before, lovely boutiques, restaurants, and visits by well-heeled tourists from around the world. This is also true.

Steven Hirsch’s gorgeous photographs show us a bit, a very small bit, of that first story, and the glimpses of beauty in the sludge that most of us don’t see. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if this is a 21st century manifestation of romanticism…finding the sublime in decay, the way that 19th century poets were inspired by the fragmented ruins of antiquities.

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Mania(2015)
Mania (2015), Steven Hirsch

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In any case, the photographs are truly lovely and very much worth a look. The introduction by critic Jordan Teicher informs us that “Hirsch’s eye for abstraction will find other treasure troves—he’s become fond of dumpsters lately—in parts of New York that would go unnoticed by the rest of us.” I, for one, am looking forward to that.

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3.5 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Asteria(2014)
Asteria (2014), Steven Hirsch

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com

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Photographs Courtesy of Steven Hirsch and powerHouse Books

Lead-In Image: Helios (2015), Steven Hirsch

Helios(2015)