Emily Corbató recently stopped playing the piano professionally, swapping black and white keys for black and white photos. Plum Island, MA, the location of Corbató’s studio, inspired her to take photographs of nature that she feels communicate her inner thoughts. She uses photography as her voice and what she has to say in “Absolution of the Wind” (1997-2009) is definitely worth listening to.
“Absolution of the Wind” is a collection of photographs made up of four separate series. The earliest is “ocean scapes,” taken around 1997, then there’s her series of cloud photographs taken in the early 2000s, titled “in the beginning,” while her two new series, “absolution of the wind” and “reflections,” focus on trees.
The four series are displayed in the same room but are grouped separately. Each series is prefaced by a short introduction by Corbató, explaining what the photographs mean to her. The exhibit is set up well and flows nicely despite being a bit cramped. The photographs are arranged in visually appealing ways and the lighting, subtly highlighting the photographs, is just right.
A common theme of Corbató’s photographs is motion. This is most obvious in her pictures of the ocean, which show rocks along the coast surrounded in swirls of blurred tide. In some photographs the water is smooth in the foreground but the background reveals the explosive white foam of tide breaking, mirroring the clouds above.
Motion is subtler in the other three series: her cloud photographs show huge clouds, sometimes alone, sometimes overpowering a row of houses and making them seem insignificant. Their shapes give the feeling that they are constantly evolving. “Absolution of the wind” is only pictures of trees, but the lines of their gnarled branches cause the eye to follow their path of growth. The series of photographs of trees reflected in water, “reflections,” shows movement through the blurred reflections and the ripples in the water.
The photographs are all very spiritual. In her artist’s statement, Corbató says that the cloud photographs “visualize the synthesis of her soul,” and in the short poem she wrote that is displayed next to the ocean series she states, “I have come to feel this place as home/ It is where I dream.” She quotes a Philip Booth poem in the explanation of her photographs of trees — “I loaf within the absolution of the wind.” It is clear that returning to take photographs on Plum Island after 15 years of playing piano has been a renewing experience for Corbató.
While the series titled “absolution of the wind” is merely average, the other three are fantastic. Unlike the bland, gray pictures of trees, the other series are full of contrast. The pictures of trees reflected off water are the most dramatic in this respect, as their range of tones tends to be mostly black and white with very little gray in between. While in a usual photograph this would remove the feeling of ambiguity, these photographs still have that element because the shapes of the trees are blurred by the texture of the water.
The series titled “in the beginning” contains photographs of clouds, which Corbató took while “the sky surrounded and enveloped [her] with its passion, fervor and glory.” Her photographs are effective because they zoom in on the clouds, making them look like beautiful explosions of white.
The idea behind Corbató’s photographs is that nature can be spiritually healing, and if her goal is to share this with the public, she has accomplished it. Not only are her subjects interesting to look at, her photographs are generally well composed. Looking at nature through the eyes of Corbató could lead anyone to feel spiritually moved.
“Absolution of the wind” will be at the Rubin-Frankel Gallery, located on the second floor of Boston University’s Hillel House, until Dec. 21. Hours are available at http://www.bu.edu/hillel/gallery/current.html. Admission is free.