Exhibition Captures Images of Camden’s Past and Future

By Tom McLaughlin

As Cyril Reade explains, the story of Camden’s transformation is a complex one. Like many northeastern American cities, he notes, the city experienced the decline of its traditional manufacturing base and the ensuing departure of its residents to the surrounding suburbs.

However, adds Reade, a new chapter has only just begun.

“Today, Camden is attracting new industries,” says Reade, director of the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts. “Educational and medical establishments are strengthening their commitment to the city and existing neighborhoods are being rebuilt and enlivened by residents and workers committed to the revitalization of their city.”

Capturing Camden’s past and its forward trajectory, six contemporary artists have been invited to share their works – utilizing an array of divergent media – in the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts’ new captivating exhibition, “Picturing Camden,” running from Sept. 11 to Dec. 8.

“Picturing Camden” (2017) rounds out the trilogy of Rutgers University–Camden exhibitions focusing on Camden – following “Visions of Camden” (2013) and “Sounds of Camden” (2014).

Shuli Sadé, “One step-Giant leap,” 2017

The six participating artists have created new work inspired by Camden that are each as unique as the artists themselves. Shuli Sadé’s “Metro Cryptograms” unveil a grid of modern architectural rhythms and Tim Portlock uses 3D-gaming technology to simulate real and imagined spaces.

Ken Hohing, an assistant professor of art and head of the photography concentration at Rutgers–Camden, shares photographs of the cityscape that he captured in the 1980s, while Eric Porter’s photographs reflect the transience of the urban environment. Michael Bartmann’s paintings evoke the industrial landscape in transition and Bruce Garrity, a part-time lecturer of painting and art at Rutgers–Camden, paints landscapes in pursuit of pictorial drama.

According to Hohing, his work represents a one-year archive taken from a larger five-year formal photographic investigation of the city of Camden. The images focus on the neighborhoods of North Camden, then south to Waterfront South, and east to Parkside and Gateway. It also includes a current-day, deformalized approach utilizing smartphone technology taken primarily along the Ferry Avenue Waterfront South industrial district.

“The images are not intended as judgements or criticism, but as defiant sentinels meant to communicate something to us,” says Hohing. “Their language can be interpreted as musical notes whose pitches change with each stage in the work’s evolution over time. In its entirety, the work is presented as a sleeping entity that slowly awakens to a triumphant chorus of resilience revealed through an evolving photographic approach.”

As Hohing recalls, he began the archive with the intention of focusing on buildings, and making a concerted effort to avoid people. In his favorite images, the structures are “isolated and appear as geological outcroppings” that he aimed to “monumentalize” by capturing them with a wide-angle lens, creating extreme perspective distortion.

“At first I sought out the grayest possible days, but the work evolved later on with the use of red and orange filters,” he recalls. “I combined them with sunshine and active clouds, and the entire mood of the work changed from dim and stark to defiant and heroic.”

Eric Porter, Untitled, 2017

For Garrity, “pictorial drama” has much to do with his focus on accentuation as a means of depiction. According to the Rutgers–Camden painting

instructor, it’s a matter of letting the paint or drawing material become “a kind of metaphor” for textures, colors, the weather, and the atmosphere of a scene. With this in mind, he utilizes different ways of applying the paint – washy or thickly – with brushes, knives, or fingers.

“The paintings are suggestive rather than slavish copies of the site,” says Garrity. “I hope this openness allows the viewer to bring something to the work rather than telling them everything.”

As Garrity explains, his inspiration and personal connection to Camden runs deep. Arriving in the late 1890s, his grandparents lived in several homes from State Street south for most of their lives. During that time, his grandfather held several different jobs, running a saloon and working as a chauffeur, before working primarily as a plumber/steamfitter for New York Ship. Garrity recalls visiting his grandparents’ home in Yorkship in the early 1960s.

Having personally witnessed Camden’s transformation over the years, he sees Camden as a vivid example of how the working class has changed, experiencing periods of both growth and decline over the past century.

“Glimpses of all of this history are still to be seen, or conversely, it’s conspicuously absent,” he says. “I hope my work shows that cities evolve, and that there is reason to be optimistic about Camden’s future.”

A forthcoming publication will accompany the exhibition. A series of related public programs will also examine the role that the arts have played – and can continue to play – in reimagining the city of Camden, inviting residents of all ages to visualize their own pictures of Camden.

Gallery hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibition is free of charge and open to the public.

For directions to Rutgers–Camden, visit camden.rutgers.edu/visit/driving-directions.

For more information, visit rcca.camden.rutgers.edu or contact Nancy Maguire at (856) 225-6245.

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