Catalog Essays

Berkshire Museum

“David Ricci – Recent Developments”

Color photography emerged as an art form twenty-five years ago and has only received wider critical attention in the last fifteen years. Trained in engineering, David Ricci turned his attention to photography in the late 1970s, and has since developed a distinctive body of work. This exhibition focuses on his most recent output, which is characterized by a rigorous investigation of the qualities of rhythm, pattern and repetition in the visual field. These works are the result of a deliberate approach to picture taking that yields highly intellectual and exacting compositions. Ricci’s photographs have a mathematical authority or as he says “Geometry underlies all my work.”

Ricci’s work is related to a genre launched in the early eighties known as “new topographic” photography, which studied man-made alterations to the landscape. For Ricci, the choice to photograph the amusement parks, boardwalks and other popular terrain is the result of a search for “certain formal qualities.” In other words, the subject did not determine composition. Rather, compositional considerations influenced the choice of subject matter. These locations yielded the vibrant colors and density of visual patterns he wanted in his work.

Ricci resists the social commentary that might easily slip into work that is preoccupied with recording the popular and tacky landscape. In fact, out of these mundane locations Ricci frames visions of formal elegance. Usually devoid of figures, the visual interest of these pictures derives from the interplay of compositional elements. The competing colors, geometries of structures, and patterns of light and shadow that would go unnoticed by most, cohere in the picture frame as a new, unfamiliar territory – a kind of hybrid reality.

Ricci identifies as easily with the work of past photographers as with the work of painters and sculptors. At ease with his medium and focused on his goal of developing a distinctive formal language in color photography, Ricci is not subject to the “unwritten [law] that no photographer shall ever publicly admit to any painterly influence.” In a recent interview Ricci noted that one essential difference between painting and photography is that in painting “if an element is not going to make a contribution, [you] don’t put it in [the picture]. “ He suggests photography is a less flexible medium, yet his work is a testament to the control he exercises over environmental and technical obstacles.

Every step of Ricci’s working method is highly organized and thoughtfully executed. He makes two to three trips per year to sites he wishes to photograph. Planning his itinerary in advance, he often visits amusement parks in the off-season. After returning home he will spend hours poring over transparencies at the light table. Working closely with a color laboratory, some of the more promising shots are then made into 8×10” proofs. These in turn are scrutinized, sometimes cropped, and eventually a few make the final grade.

The work in this exhibition is the result of superior standards and a unique personal vision. Continually developing upon previous themes, David Ricci has been able to extend his formal pictorial language into new regions characterized by increasingly complex visual patterns.

-Marion Grant
Curator of Exhibitions

Art Complex Museum

“David Ricci – The Edge of Chaos”

David Ricci’s color photographs mesmerize us with their density and formal beauty. As a photographic formalist, Ricci’s vision is guided by his desire to uncover an underlying sense of order within the most mundane subjects. Edge of Chaos – Ricci’s title for this exhibition – refers to that magical region in which beauty unexpectedly emerges where disorder once reigned. He purposefully chooses banal subjects such as vacant amusement parks, junkyards, and, most recently, demolition sites which allow him to impose his own vision on a relatively neutral field of man-made elements.

Ricci first started shooting American recreational sites as a ready-made source of visual material. Photographed off-season, he could exploit the hidden structural order and rhythmic lines generated by the steel infrastructure of these pleasure domes.

Looking for subjects of even greater visual complexity, Ricci next began photographing debris from natural disasters as in Fairgrounds, Great Barrington, MA #1, 1995. This photograph marks an important turning point in Ricci’s work. The graceful network of intersecting lines that characterized his earlier images has been replaced by a dense layering of materials caused by the collapse of this temporary structure. Space is no longer navigable as splintered pieces of wood and other debris fill most of the composition.

Uneasy with the exploitive nature of shooting disaster scenes, Ricci soon discovered that scrap yards provided equally rich material for his lens. By narrowing his field of vision and leaving only a trace of sky along the upper edges of the composition, Ricci heightened the two-dimensional effect of these images. His method parallels the Abstract Expressionist’s desire to fill the frame from edge to edge with no obvious center of interest.

The demolition of the England Brothers Department Store in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has been the most recent focus of Ricci’s attention. Without benefit of a title, one could easily mistake his photographs of this demolition site for an urban war zone.

While it is possible to see Ricci’s images as comments upon our throw away culture, with built-in obsolescence a hallmark of our society, Ricci’s formal intentions place his work squarely within a classic modernist tradition. Elegantly constructed, Ricci’s images challenge the viewer in increasingly subtle ways, to see beauty in the most unlikely places.

-Lisa Weber Greenberg
Curator of Exhibitions