Untitled from the series "Easton Portraits". 1989
Sometimes it only takes one picture. In 1990 I was at the Museum of Modern Art viewing John Szarkowski’s final exhibition, “Photography Until Now” when I was stopped in my tracks by the last photograph in the show – a small but luminous 8 x 10 inch print on printing out paper of three young girls in bathing suits looking shyly at the camera while behind them, in the distance and out of focus, a teenage boy observes the proceedings. The picture was so visceral in its textures, so full of incipient narrative, and so intelligently composed, I knew this had to be the work of a brilliant photographer and without seeing one more of her pictures, I tracked her down and offered her a show.
We ended up doing two shows - the first a survey of her “Easton” pictures, photographs of children from her hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania; and the second of her pictures of visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.. While taking pains to avoid showing the Memorial itself in order to convey a more universal sense of loss, the portraits nevertheless carried all the emotional weight of their subjects' experience, the sadness of the bereaved, and the tragic results of war.
Below: Untitled photographs from the series: Portraits at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C., 1983/1984
For the last decade, Judith has been represented by Pace MacGill where Peter MacGill, the son of a preacher (and with his own strong antiwar sentiments) has steadfastly supported her work. Now through October 11, you can see her latest series, close-up portraits of protesters to the Iraq war shot all around Pennsylvania and in Washington D.C. and Tempe, Arizona. The show has its own small catalog along with a larger book, "Living With War - Portraits", that puts together all of Ross's series connected to war.
Taken with a cumbersome 8 x 10 view camera, the process that goes into making the pictures requires an unusual complicity, and evidence of the rapport between the photographer and the subject fills the frame. Like all of Ross’s work, it’s a reflective and deeply personal essay, but it asks the question – what are you doing to be true to your beliefs? What does it take to get you out of your regular routine? It’s a subtle but powerful call to act.