Vanessa Marsh: Falling

Tonight I stood under a shower of hundreds of thousands of red paper hearts that flew up into the sky like an unpredictable swarm of birds and then they fell to the rain slicked streets of the Place de la Republique in Paris. It's the one year anniversary of the Paris shootings today and it is also that time of year when Paris Photo and Fotofever happen simultaneously. Somehow, with the climate feeling very heavy from the recent presidential election in the United States and then this day of remembering last year's tragedy, it doesn't seem like the moment to be thinking about art. But yet, really now more than ever, it is the time for artists to be creating and dreaming and striving and making new realities and unleashing new visions.

Tonight, not just when the hearts were falling from the sky, but later, when paper lanterns were lit with different colors candles and let go in the canal, their shimmering luminosity floating across the black water bearing the names of all those who died in the Paris attacks last year, I paused. Tonight, through the tears and sadness, I also saw the beauty of the scene. Not just the heartbreak, but the beauty too. How visually arresting it all was. Enough to squeeze your heart and shake your core...and make you think about how it all looks.

I was in Paris to attend Paris Photo and FotoFever and look at photographs. And standing there in the rain soaked streets watching the lanterns float by me, I thought of night skies and the aurora and the way the stars appear when we're not paying attention. I thought of how photography can be a document, but it can also be a dream. About who is pushing the ideas of what a photograph can be and how they can be made. One of the artists I've been watching is Vanessa Marsh, whose work was at Duncan Miller Gallery's booth at Fotofever this year in Paris. The work from her series, "Falling" began at RayKo Photo Center when she was a resident artist a few years ago. She had applied for the residency program with a series of b&w images of carefully designed man-made and natural landscapes with a strangely brilliant night sky behind them. Too real to be real. So perfect and so strange. The owner of RayKo and I were mesmerized by these and granted her the residency...and also urged her to try the color darkrooms. What could happen? Well, a lot. Vanessa's work evolved into large color photograms of night skies made from cut paper and layers of acetate and paint...There's a lot that go into the making of these unique prints that appear to be real landscapes, but really are landscapes of the artist's mind. I'm lucky that I get a regular viewing of these chromogenic prints as she pulls them out of our Colex color processor and studies them as they hang on the magnetized walls of the photography center...each print different than the one before. Sometimes a triptych of three different color packs greets me at the door; other times a realistic dusky sky with the mountains receding in the distance; and still other times, just the aurora borealis shifting across a sea of stars. The first time I saw them, I thought she had borrowed images from the Hubble Space Telescope...but no, she had created the negatives herself, painstakingly, with different materials. I've agreed not to tell the secret of how she makes these seemingly real scenes, so I'll just urge you to find them and see for yourself. If you missed them in Paris, they'll also be exhibited in Miami at the next round of art fairs. Her work will be at Scope Miami, again at the Duncan Miller Gallery booth, November 29-December 4, 2016 and then she will be having an exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery in April 2017.

Biography Vanessa Marsh was born Seattle, Washington, in 1978. She earned her BA from Western Washington University in 2001 followed by her MFA from California College of the Arts in 2004. Marsh has exhibited across the United States, including at the SFO Museum; Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco; New Museum of Los Gatos; Richard L. Nelson Gallery at UC Davis; San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art; Julie Nester Gallery in Park City, UT; Foley Gallery, New York; and the Camera Club of New York. In late 2015, she completed a permanent installation of photographs through the SF Arts Commission at SFO, Terminal 3 East. She has been awarded fellowships at the Headlands Center for the Arts (2004), the MacDowell Colony (2007), and Kala Art Institute (2011), and was an artist in residence at San Francisco's Rayko Photo Center in 2014. Marsh lives and works in Oakland, CA.

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