Urban explorers are not rare, nor are those photographers who capture the surfaces of the city, but Monica Kass Rogers is in a class by herself with “The Alley Project,” which Rogers has created over a period of three years in the alleyways of Chicago. There are 1,900 miles of alleys in our city, which means Rogers covered a lot of ground. The images themselves, saturated with color and nuance are like abstract paintings. Thoughtful and made with an artist’s eye, these photographs are distilled, in the way haiku is distilled—minimal, material, and carefully created, to spectacular effect.
Rogers, whose commercial work is largely food photography so luscious your mouth waters, has an unparalleled eye for composition that pays off in her capture of the endlessly fascinating relics of our city. This work is decidedly urban and decaying, yet through Roger’s choices of surfaces, the images retain the bright freshness of a newly painted canvas.
The exhibition at Perspective is beautifully curated—one stunning image after another. Studying the photographs, I realized that although one is tempted to try to decipher what each one is a photograph of, in reality, it doesn’t matter, any more than trying to define what any abstract painter is showing us with his/her work. The essence of this work is simply what you see, not what you are supposed to see. Rogers has traveled deeply into the city, lovingly capturing essential details of much larger found surfaces, and that is all. The meaning is in the beauty of the images.
The most exciting image for me is titled “Frør.” Although it appears to be black and white at first glance, it is actually a color image, subtle, nuanced, wonderfully textured. Rogers tells me that she found this on the side of a truck in an alley. I spent some time with this photograph and my impressions were of its similarity to an etching or a graphite drawing. Another very appealing image is titled “Tangelo.” Intense orange tones in an almost panoramic image excite the eye, and the texture is mesmerizing. Images entitled “High Summer” and “Forest Dream” evoke gardens, and “Saplings by the Stream” suggests the dappled light of the sun through trees. What is most impressive is that Rogers has been able to unearth and capture such incredible beauty in the filth of Chicago’s alleys.
“The Alley Project: Beauty in Entropy” at Perspective Gallery, 1310-1/2B Chicago Avenue, Evanston. Through December 30.