Where land and water meet: Photos by Lee Goodwin

             A retrospective exhibit of landscape photography by local artist Lee Goodwin is at the Fraser Gallery in Bethesda. It seems fitting that the final exhibition in this beautiful art space would be photographs, because the gallery has been one of the few in the region to specialize in art photography, and that they are Goodwin's photos which, with one exception, were taken in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

             Themes of land and water, and especially the places where they meet, are dominant here, photographed with Goodwin's acute sensitivity to light conditions and composition. A photograph such as "Twilight Fisher" is a case in point. Taken in the early evening, a pearlescent sheen with tones of pink and pale blue appears on water rushing over the rocks at Great Falls, which themselves take on a slightly mauve coloration. Although this is an archival digital print, the color in this, and all the other color photos in the show, is completely natural — not enhanced or invented in Photoshop.

             The composition is exquisite. The tiny bird waiting for dinner on the rock near the lower edge is the focal point of the entire photo. Implied lines suggested by the angles of the rocks above it seem to emanate from the bird upward toward the corners of the composition, locking the entire field in tight pictorial unity.

             This is a photo, and not a painting, in which compositional decisions can be made at some leisure. It exemplifies Goodwin's habit of always being ready for that unrepeatable moment, with the eye to organize the shot in fractions of a second, and have it turn out like this.

             It's hard to take pictures of some of our area's better-known places without a touch of the tacky or the souvenir. One way is to photograph them in unusual weather conditions, as during last year's "snowmaggedon" or in deep fog. "Jefferson Memorial, February Morning" is a view of the monument, seen at some distance from along the edge of the water, everything covered in deep snow. In this large-format black-and-white image, the curve of the path along the river points to the familiar dome, while the trees, edged in white, make calligraphic patterns across the pale sky. A similar view in color, taken at sunrise just a little bit further away, "Jefferson Memorial, December morning," is a symphony of purple and gold. Tiny clouds in the sky reflected in the water act like arrows to bring the viewer's attention to the monument in the distance.

             Among other local places transformed by light and weather are the Memorial Bridge in photos that make it appear gold and blue in the winter morning light, and the benches on the Mall. "Foggy Morning on the Mall" has both the underlying compositional strength and the delicacy of a painting by Claude Monet. There's a lot about Goodwin's photos that reminds us of paintings. This approach to photography has a long history in America, particularly in regard to landscape, just as landscape painting is a particularly American genre. What distinguishes Goodwin's work is the way he can photograph a place we've seen many times and make it seem new and unfamiliar. Photos such as "Cliff and Fallen Trees," "Lock 7 in Fog" and "Great Falls and Herons" make the rocks, trees and old locks on the Potomac seem like places we've not seen before.

             The "one exception" to local subjects mentioned above is a photo of the Yosemite Valley. Goodwin acknowledges that although he took many photos on that 2008 trip, it is hard to avoid comparison with Ansel Adams' iconic images of that place. Goodwin's "Yosemite Valley" is no copy of Adams. It does rival Adams in terms of the overall pictorial effect, tonality, depth, classical arrangement of the forms and breathtaking view of the cliffs. Even if Adams had photographed every inch of Yosemite, this particular view is not one of his. With a broad expanse of reflective water in the foreground, littered with stones that get denser near the water's edge, the tree line creates a textured horizon between it and the white mountains above that frame the composition as though it were a painting by American landscape painter Albrecht Bierstadt. Yet, while Bierstadt altered his views to make them more stunning, the photographic view in Goodwin's picture is enough to bring the place here, transformed, perhaps, by the wizardry of a perfect shot.

             A few words about technique. Goodwin is showing both color and black-and-white archival digital prints in this exhibit. He has included a few black-and-white gelatin silver prints, a technique he employed exclusively until a few years ago when he moved to digital. There is a visible difference between them. The film prints have a different range of tones, and seem richer in some nearly indefinable way. However, the color digital prints have an atmospheric density that captures weather and light effects in a way quite distinct from traditional color photography. The black-and-white digitals, like the "Yosemite Valley" image, have a tight crispness that also is unique to this contemporary technique. Goodwin has said that unless you know how to print a good photo in the traditional sense, you won't do well with digital either. He certainly knows his way around both.

Claudia Rousseau, Gazette Newspapers, March 23, 2011


 Reviewed: Lee Goodwin at Fraser Gallery

             Coincidence or not, the final show at Fraser Gallery is fitting. The Bethesda gallery, which specializes in photography and painting, is closing 15 years after its now-shuttered Georgetown branch first opened. The last show features the work of Lee Goodwin—a D.C.-based landscape photographer who’s not a household name but whose images are precise and technically expert. Goodwin’s images pay homage to the natural and built environment of the Washington area—Great Falls, the Tidal Basin, the C&O Canal, the Washington Monument. The juxtaposition of color and black-and-white images is sometimes a bit jarring, but a number of the images are well-crafted—the Roosevelt Memorial covered by icy blue snow under a pale pink sky; dizzying reflections of trees and leaves floating in the water; sycamore branches against a canopy of blotchy clouds and an impenetrable forest. Goodwin’s finest images, though, aren’t of a marquee location, but rather of an anonymous riverbank, seen in April (with bare trees), May (bright green leaves), and October (a blaze of autumn).

 Louis Jacobson, Washington City Paper, March 14, 2011


Rousseau on Goodwin and Shapiro at Iona Center

            Something like a retrospective of the photographs of Lee Goodwin is now on view at the Iona Center in NW Washington. Goodwin, who was named “Artist in Residence” there for this year, is widely known for his photos of the area, especially the Potomac and the C&O Canal area.

             The photos in this exhibit include both the gelatin silver prints that he was creating until a couple of years ago, and his new archival digital prints, many in color.

             The subject matter remains the same: familiar places made to look very unfamiliar, exotic, desirable. One delicately colored photo of a figure reading a newspaper on an early foggy morning on the Mall looks like an impressionist painting. Another, taken after the first snowfall this past winter, is a study in perfection. Taken just at dawn, the rising sun is framed in the center of trees covered in white. All the photos are both sensitively and expertly composed, using features in the landscape to create unusual effects.

Claudia Rousseau, Daily Campello Art News, October 18, 2010


Reviewed: The International Photography Competition at Fraser Gallery

            Is it possible that some of the more impressive photography in Washington right now has been produced by near-amateurs? Judging by the nearly three dozen juried works in the 9th annual International Photography Competition at Bethesda’s Fraser Gallery—drawn from a pool of more than 500 entries submitted by 151 locals and out-of-towners—that may be the case…

             The exhibit’s landscape images are among its strongest: Kent Mercurio’s tiny, isolated, leafy island under a silky sky; Lee Goodwin’s finely detailed photograph of a wooded shoreline; and Minny Lee’s ominous sky-and-branches image, with the indistinct detailing one might find in an early 20th century gum-bichromate print.

Louis Jacobson, Washington City Paper, March 19, 2010


Finding Landscapes Of Water And Fire: Lee Goodwin And Carl Root

            Two of the area's finest photographers are exhibiting together in the Art Gallery at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown. Both Lee Goodwin and Carl Root seem to be drawn to the notion of landscape patterns. Goodwin seeks them in local places where water and earth meet, and Root, in the unexpected forms resulting in the surfaces of deliberately burned cars. Goodwin's photography, both film and digital in this exhibit, is juxtaposed with Root's archival pigment prints, the former primarily black and white, the latter a riot of color.

            Goodwin's compositional eye is exquisite. Every picture seems as if it were set up for the camera. In practice, this is the result of relentless stalking of the motif, reminiscent of artists like Monet who continually set out, paint box in hand, looking for perfect moments in nature when the light was just right, or Cézanne who went back to the same place repeatedly to see it anew each time.

             Staying close to home in the Potomac/Great Falls area, with some forays to Virginia, Goodwin revisits places again and again, at different times and seasons, finding sometimes subtle, sometimes radical differences. For example, a breathtakingly beautiful scene of "Cliff and Fallen Trees, C&O Canal" was shot in early spring. The archival digital black and white print shows a perfect mirror reflection of the cliff and trees in the canal's clear water, the fine line dividing earth from reflection seemingly drawn in silverpoint. Yet, when the artist returned to the spot a few months later, the water was choked with algae, providing no reflections whatsoever.

            One of the most remarkable aspects of photos like this is the way Goodwin makes us aware of the remarkable beauty that is close by, precious and in great need of protection. A lawyer by profession, working for the environment and renewable energy, this is perhaps an unconscious directive for Goodwin, but is evident in the work nonetheless.

             When he captures views of the falls ("Great Falls at Sunset II" or "Olmstead Island Moving Water Study"), one thinks these must be exotic places. The familiar is made unfamiliar, places that beg to be explored.

            While most of Goodwin's prints are archival digital, a few of his somewhat older gelatin silver prints are included here. There is no denying that the film/print technique produces a very different result. Comparisons are instructive. A work like his prize-winning photo of "Lock 7 in Fog" shows an amazing range of delicate gray tones, subtly darkening toward the hulking forms of the lock in the foreground or lightening toward the center distance. "Trees, Route 664," another gelatin silver print, and one of the very few images without a water component, shows a variety of warm grays in a composition that makes ordinary hay rolls look magical. On the other hand, the crystalline effects possible with the digital printing of a photo like "Kenilworth Marshes," "Storm over Fort Valley" or the mirror-like reflection mentioned earlier are very compelling both for their tonality and their carefully controlled compositions.

            In recent years, adapting to the digital camera, Goodwin has ventured into color. "Fletcher Boats" stand out red in sharp contrast to the gray water of the dock near Georgetown, while a view of them with the trees and the dock in gray-blue fog is almost pastel.

            Possibly the most remarkable color works are again the result of being in the right place at the right time. In mid-January, the angle of the rising sun is such that it burnishes the inside of the arches of the Memorial Bridge. Goodwin almost had a wreck pulling over to capture this fleeting effect, resulting in three photos of this usually pale and not-terribly-interesting structure transformed into shining gold.

Claudia Rousseau, Gazette Newspapers, May 13, 2009


On View: Singing of the land at Fraser Gallery

            ‘‘Land,” a group exhibition of contemporary landscape photography at Fraser Gallery in Bethesda, features exceptionally high-quality work by Maxwell MacKenzie and Lee Goodwin, among the top regional names in the field. The show also presents a group of photos by established Canadian photographer Lawrence Hislop, two remarkable works by emerging artist Anna Druzcz and a rare group of prints by the late Mark Evan Thomas….

           Goodwin’s gelatin silver prints of scenes around the Potomac are superb in both their delicate juxtaposition of land and water, and their complete control of the tonal range. Like the paintings of the 19th century Luminists, who focused on aspects of the mid-Atlantic coast, Goodwin’s photos make what may be familiar to us seem luminous and even numinous. That numinous quality — a sense of divine presence in the land — has been an important aspect of American landscape art in general. Goodwin’s ‘‘Bryce Canyon, Trees and Rocks,” a study of tower rocks in Utah, recalls Adams’ photos of Death Valley of the 1940s.

Claudia Rousseau, Gazette Newspapers, November 28, 2007


Photography’s hot at Fraser’s competition show

            What is hot in photography these days? ... A look at the work of the competition winners now at the Fraser Gallery in Bethesda also indicates that traditional photography is still healthy — despite Kodak’s 2005 announcement that it would no longer manufacture black and white printing papers… 

            Overall, however, the best work is in the traditional prints... Finally, the topographical photos of Lee Goodwin, winner of “Best in Show,” are both lyrical and unabashedly beautiful. In ‘‘Lock 7 in Fog,” the atmospheric effects produce perfectly graded tones of soft gray against the dark forms of the lock in the foreground. Goodwin’s exquisitely composed ‘‘Rocks and Water, Great Falls” is arguably the gem of the entire exhibit. The sharp edges and the nuanced tonality in this photo of the Potomac’s rocks make them seem those of a far-off country, dreamlike and yet intensely present.

Claudia Rousseau, Gazette Newspapers, March 28, 2006


 A stunning example of the tonal variety of gelatin silver prints, Lee Goodwin’s ‘‘Rocks and Water, Great Falls” makes the familiar seem unfamiliar.

 Claudia Rousseau, Gazette Newspapers, March 28, 2006

 Lee Goodwin's Rocks and Water, Great Falls (Fraser)

            Lee Goodwin not only had 4 pieces accepted to the 2006 Photography Exhibit, but was also chosen by Juror Catriona Fraser as “Best in Show.” Goodwin contributes to the show what I see as some of the best contemporary nature photography out there. Not only does he capture the beauty of the outdoors, but he does so with tight composition. In the photo above, I love the quarter-circle of rocks coming out of the bottom quarter. The other compositional aspect that makes this photograph stand out is the reflection of the rocks. Good art forces the viewer to ask questions and for me, this piece does that in an interesting way. It serves as a catalyst and provokes memories bringing me back to different times and places. Once transported back into the past, I begin to ask questions. While Goodwin's work is definitely “pretty,” I don't think that should at all take away from the fact that Goodwin has provided four technically well composed and well printed pieces.

Alexandra Silverthorne, Solarize This, March 24, 2006