Picks and Pans Review: The Pond

updated 03/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/24/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by John Gossage

For the past three years photographer Gossage has traipsed around vacant lots, scruffy woods and backyards in the vicinity of a pond near his home in Washington, D.C. These are marginal places, too verdant to be urban, too forlorn to be suburban. But Gossage penetrates their nondescript veneer. He seems especially interested in the marks that humans make in their casual use and abuse of this spurned terrain: A barbed-wire fence looms over a stand of trees; a tire juts from a swampy pond; a sawed-off tree limb partially blocks a streamside path. Some of the photographs contain small cries of pain: Seen at a distance in the woods is the exposed white flesh of a slender tree broken at the trunk. But the sensibility is not that of an environmentalist. Like Memphis-born color photographer William Eggleston, his more prominent friend, Gossage, 39, is a poet of the ephemeral, crystallizing order from chaos, alchemizing content from apparent dross. Gossage's photographs are subtle. Their virtuosity is self-concealing, poles apart from the clarion feats of, say, Ansel Adams. By framing his pictures so the triggering details are integrated into the larger scene, Gossage prevents these novel elements (such as a sky-reflecting puddle lying in a leaf-strewn path) from turning into fetishes or formal exhibits. By viewing each scene so steadfastly and yet with such compassion, he gives these places back their dignity. (Aperture, $40)

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