Robert Mann Gallery, New York, NY
Chip Hooper, whose fascination with seascapes has taken him as far as New Zealand and Iceland, here surveyed California’s coast and Pacific Ocean horizons in 18 stark and dramatic black-and-white photographs.
Tidepool Big Sur (2001) looks down into a tiny cove. Here, however, the colorful splendor of Big Sur has been sacrificed for a delicately nuanced black-and-white study of light and shadow. From the deep black veins in the stone cliffs to the bright white highlights in the waves, Hooper capitalizes on the full range of his medium.
Though his pictures clearly show influence of Ansel Adams, they are perhaps less straightforward, verging, as they do, more on the supernatural. In Tidepool Big Sur, the shiny rocks emerging from the gray mists and rough waters resemble scaly prehistoric reptiles. Breaking Surf, Carmel Highlands (2003), with its fierce waves, blotted sun, and frothy atmosphere, recalls Albert Pinkhams Ryder’s weird, imaginary seas full of violence and biblical metaphor.
Some of Hooper’s pictures catch the coast looking like an entirely different planet. Moonlight, Garrapata Beach (1999) shows a huge isolated rock on the beach, with the ocean horizon as a backdrop. Without losing detail on the glossy stone, Hooper has reduced sand, water, and sky to three glowing bars of pure light. The image suggests Saturn’s rings more than California. And in Rock Garden (2002), the six rock formations penetrating a calm bay could just as well be mountain peaks piercing a congealed alien atmosphere or giant stone idols worshipped by another species.
It’s hard to break new ground by taking pictures of the ocean, but Hooper’s photographs are remarkable for their poetry, freshness, and technical assurance. — Rex Weil