As many of you know, I go to a lot of exhibitions, but rarely do I get to go to one that is literally one mile away from my house. Two days ago I was fortunate enough to receive a call from long-time friend Philipp Scholz Rittermann inviting me to a tour of his exhibition at the Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College. I have known Philipp since my Kodak days, but we typically go for long stretches with zero contact and then suddenly run into each other all the time.
Here is a little official news about Philipp and the show.
“Emperor’s River” represents a multi-year project Sholz Ritterman conducted in China. Large scale photographs from the exhibit were recently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.
The photographer’s work is included in more than 100 public, private and corporate collections, from MoMA, New York to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France. Scholz Rittermann exhibits in national, and international venues, and he was honored with a mid-career survey at the Museum of Photographic Arts San Diego, which published the monograph “Navigating by Light”.
Scholz Rittermann has been teaching photography for more than 30 years in the United States and abroad. He is represented by Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco.
Allow me to translate. Philipp has his act together. He is a serious guy. I don’t mean his personality is serious because he is always smiling and laughing, but his career, his work, his planning and his ideas are very well structured, thought out and complete. I’d heard about this project long ago, and I’ve seen countless stories regarding China, but knowing Philipp as long as I have I knew his project would be different, and it is. My personal experience with China is limited. I’ve made two trips to Hong Kong and one short trip into Southern China, but my overall impression can be summed up in one word: overwhelming. So what I love about Philipp’s work and this particular project is that he managed to reduce the incredible scale of China into something I can get my head around. He did this by using the anchor of the Grand Canal as as viscous artery that winds it’s way through the soul of China and the cerebral cortex of the viewer. We see layer after layer of apartment buildings. We see hyper-modern, futuristic convention centers and seafood markets that stretch endlessly into the inky Chinese night. A world with thousands of years of history is being brought up to modern speed in a remarkably short period of time. We wonder when the dust will settle and the answer we see in Philipp’s photographs is perhaps “never.”
But there is more to this story. Philipp’s technique is to a photograph a scene with a multitude of exposures and compositions then stitch them seamlessly together. The result is an image incredibly rich in information, detail and exposure. And, to top it off, many of the images were done handheld! Images required days, sometimes weeks, to composite. Philipp’s prints are large but not crazily so, and after a brief overview I found myself being pulled in, FAR in to each and every print. I found myself studying and being completely content with tiny portions of each print. Ultimately, what I enjoy the most about Philipp’s show is that the images remind me how much of an enigma China really is. I’m left with so many questions. I find myself wondering how this China story will end. Good photography doesn’t always answer every question. Good photograph also creates mystery, and that is how I feel about Philipp’s work.