Pictured, from left (see below for more information on each)
Materials: Gelatin silver print 16 x 20” each.
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, fifth floor, hallway, east end opposite corridor.
Cleveland-based photographer Walter Grossman studied with Ansel Adams and is internationally recognized for his black and white photography, of which the Summa Collection owns these three gelatin silver prints. These are excellent examples of the photographic process developed in the late 19th century and made commercially available in the U.S. by Kodak after 1900. Amateur photography of the 20th century was made possible by eventual widespread availability of easily used film, chemicals and materials to develop the film, and special papers for printing the resulting photograph. Only with the gradual adoption of digital photography beginning in the 1990s and then at a greater pace following the debut of the Apple iPhone (2007), was the prized gelatin silver process largely replaced.
Grossman’s images turn the heroic lens of Adams’ West to Ohio’s less dramatic landscapes — in these three images from the Hocking Hills region — which the photographer presents to us in carefully composed views and rich detail, imparting a “soft-spoken” grandeur to places many of us know, or know of. Black-and-white photography tends to create an effect of timelessness that we respond to unconsciously: While these images do contain hints of seasonality, there is nothing in them to suggest that they were not taken yesterday, or a century ago.
Grossman has pursued his passion for photography alongside his dental practice in Rocky River, photographing in Ohio but also in the West (the Elusive Shadows album in which these photos were first published — see below — has images from California and Colorado, too). He exhibits work in area galleries and museums and has taught photography at Lorain Community College.
The artist brings us in tight against the rock face, which leans above us and then, as we follow the path with our eyes, appears to block passage. This bounces us back to the center of the composition, with the yawning black of its cave, a beckoning unknown. Grossman captures, in the grayscale available in black-and-white photography, the rich detail of this scene: the strata of the rock face and the lighter verticals where rain has washed down, painting (as per the title) the surface with multi-hued deposits; the beaten path contrasting with the scree at the lower right; and the stark vertical of the living tree trunk, dark across from the lit rock.
This deep, darkened overhang thrusts us into the light in the center of the photograph, and then the eye travels into the background, coming to rest finally in front of the trees and rock in the center. The rain of the title has generated by one of those temporary waterfalls that delight in spring and fall, and recent, harder rain has lefts its traces in the rivulet-printed sand that will mark our passage as we are invited into the scene. In this photograph set within the Hocking Hills, Grossman handles gradations of tone with precision, contrasting them with the rich blacks of the shadow. The gelatin silver technique enables the artist to create particularly deep tones.
A lone, bare tree occupies the center of this composition, growing out of the tumbled rocks that almost sparkle with fallen leaves. Conkle’s Hollow, in the Hocking Hills, is one of the deepest gorges in Ohio; Grossman alludes to that by focusing his photo on an area of the gorge where there are no horizontals and verticals (except for that tree!). Light and shadow alternate among the diagonals and sharp edges of the rocks, creating a scene that does not invite the eye to wander placidly but instead celebrates the chaos of an area where Nature is still shifting things around.
Where you can see more of this artist’s work:
The photographs on view at Summa are from a 12-piece portfolio of prints of U.S. landscapes, Elusive Shadows, published by Walter Grossman’s gallery in 1981. You can find other works by this artist on the gallery website. He also provided the photographs for a 2010 publication, Cleveland’s Vanishing Sacred Architecture, documenting churches and related spaces that had been in decline and disuse in the greater Cleveland region.