Rosalind Solomon, Brighton Beach, New York, 1984
Russel Daniels and I were at the Pier 24 some months ago looking at Diane Arbus’ work and discussing her use of the flash in some shots, natural lighting in others. Russel was enthusiastic about the flash shots, whereas I prefer the flash-less ones. The famous Arbus shot of the older lady in the veil, up close, banged with flash and a few others like it, those are wonderful photographs, but those are never my favorite Arbus. The effect of the flash brings out the ‘sideshow’ element of Arbus, in the photos of the women a generation gap, and street portrait as confrontation.
Then there is Rosalind Solomon, to some degree a follower of Arbus, but perhaps just as much of Lisette Model. Solomon uses Hasselblad and the flash. In this aspect of her work she eclipses the masters. The flash draws for Arbus, while Solomon uses the flash to draw. The closer Solomon gets with the flash, the more beautiful the photographs get, and the more empathetic.
Coke and Cotton Candy, Scottsboro, Alabama, 1976
Seeing a print of this photograph, because of the tightness of the composition and the flash, they erase the subject of a boy holding a used cotton candy stick. The strands of hair, where they end abruptly, the freckles moving into the eyes. It’s not a portrait of a boy, it’s a Brancusi. With the sepia freckles dabbed on for good measure.
“Chapalingas” is her 400-some page masterwork, there are so many wonderful flash shots. Yes there is a debt to Arbus, but Solomon travels around the US and the world. Her interest in social documentary, all shot with 6x6, connects her to Milton Rogovin. There are funerals, weddings and parades. She’s starting just as much from Dorothea Lange, but the photograph of this mother and daughter on the beach is the emotional and circumstances opposite of “Migrant Mother.” It’s superior to Lange’s most famous photograph.
There’s much to discuss about this image besides the flash on a f22 beach day. A “Madonna and child” composition, but because of the mother’s pose and eyes closed, the child seems to be holding the mother. The mother in profile, is she in the process of kissing her daughter? This profile forms a cubist composition that allows you to look at the same mouth and nose from two angles. The girl’s stare: she knows the future. All while the sun and flash move across the skin. This photograph is deeply perfect.