In the Spaces Between

"Much has been said about the models, poses and gestures captured in the photographic images of Carson Zullinger. He is at heart a figurative artist and exploring human depth through photography is the story he is committed to telling. His recent exhibitions at the Biggs Museum of American Art and the Delaware Contemporary have been reflections on gesture, movement and narrative. However, attention should be given to Zullinger's evocation of space and the growing importance landscape has taken in his artwork in the past decade.
Zullinger has stated the images he creates "derive from the exploration of the inner self, and its contrast with the physical world" and yet the environments surrounding his models, featured in Elements, play the critical role in his latest work from Australia. In the past, the artist has dedicated some notable attention into pure landscape studies in the work he has exhibited and currently featured on his website. He has regularly honored the exciting vacation destinations to Hawaii and the Rocky Mountains with his wife, fellow photographer Patt Panzer, in his photographs. Also, their participation in the Zoefest, a photographers' retreat to remote destinations for an intense work schedule and critical support by like-minded artists, increased Zullinger's attention to capturing the distinctive qualities of each location. His use of models, and the symbolically charged poses they perform with Zullinger, is the constant across these works and the exotic worlds his subjects inhabit display the most dynamic forms of change.
In the 2018 Australian images, especially in the largest section of Elements called the Terra Mare series, Zullinger places the viewer into tightly cropped and intimately enclosed landscapes of intense textures. In many images, representation of the figure is nearly dwarfed by architectonic forms, patterns of growth and strong diagonal coastal lines of land meeting water. In the most successful of these images, when his models are contrasted with angled rock formations and knife-like forests, his figures add a poetic contrast within wild environments, a meditative moment, but the land dominates. The viewer is always in close proximity to the model, always within earshot, and this intimacy heightens attention of the space the artist cultivates between them. The space between and surrounding the model and viewer is the true subject of these photos.

Zullinger’s sensitivity to the effect that these environments, these enlivened spaces between, can have upon the narrative of his compositions is reflected in the other Elements: Aqua, Caelum and Lumen in Tenenbris. While he has explored underwater photography with models for much of his career, it is rare to see a large group of works that rely so heavily upon the shapes made with submerged textiles. In Aqua, these textiles define the models while giving form to invisible forces under the water. Like the patterns of light against the pool’s walls, and very much like the artist’s exploration of landscape, the textiles become an additional character in the narrative and visual marker of these stories’ contexts. The artist’s spatial studies are further explored in Caelum, made up largely of interiors in natural lighting, and Lumen in Tenebris, his light paintings. In these images, the tension between materiality and space creates a range of symbolic relationships with the models spanning from backdrop, to attire, to filter. The Lumen in Tenebris series is especially successful at painting draped models into moments of their story with light, their poses dramatized by the spaces from which they emerge. Carson Zullinger has always excelled at storytelling through the body. However, he seems to be exploring the notion that the best stories come from characterization of the whole scene and all its constituent players. His figures work equally as well as co-stars alongside the rich environments he drapes, layers and folds around the body. His relationships then take center stage and the complexity of spaces, forms and textures become something entirely left to chance."

Ryan Grover, Sewell C. Biggs Curator of American Art, The Biggs Museum of American Art

©Carson Zullinger

Images from Australia, 2018, Zoefest, an artist retreat organized by Zoe Wiseman
Madelyn WinterAnne DuffyMinh-lyMadelyn WinterMinh-lyTara LiggettStephanie DuboisElla RoseMinh-lyChey AnnChey AnnBrooke LynneEva LunaElla RoseElla RoseMinh-lyTara LiggettTara LiggettEsther