GRIT SCHWERDTFEGER at Corkin Gallery (55 Mill, building 61), to April 27. 416-979-1980. Rating: NNNN
Humour isn’t a quality we usually associate with photography, but Grit Schwerdtfeger, in her show Distanz 2006, imparts a gentle feeling of absurdity in her pictures of recreational locales.
The German photographer sets up in public spaces where people go to get a breather from urban life, often shooting sparsely populated, symmetrical three-strip land-water-sky vistas. Her horizontal 28-by-4o-inch prints are intentionally flattened and grainy.
Though they’re all set in Europe, many scenes are so generic that they look familiar: park benches among saplings recall Ashbridges Bay; cars parked among trees might be at Cherry Beach; snowed-in waterfronts could be on Lake Ontario.
Sometimes she denies us the feature that attracts visitors to the place: people climb stairs to a viewing platform angled out over we-know-not-what or sit on benches gazing into a blank fog bank.
Even when photographing a postcard-ready Alpine lake, Schwerdtfeger manages to undercut the prettiness by softening the mountain peaks and catching the randomly scattered figures and cows in the foreground in static postures. In another photo, an oblivious girl whizzes by on her scooter in a parking lot that abruptly cuts off the scenic mountain panorama looming beyond.
Though these images of nature as recreation all include a sometimes pathetic or silly human incursion into the landscape, they carry no heavy message about destroying the planet. Schwerdtfeger simply reminds us of the artificiality of these sites of no longer wild natural beauty, conveying a quiet but contagious affection for the outdoor spots that are not luxury vacation paradises and the ordinary people trying to take some pleasure in them.
Anyone who’s tried to take ironic photos knows it’s not that easy to pull off. Schwerdtfeger’s show offers a master class on how it’s done.