People and Places

People and Places

I n the stark room at the Yale University Art Gallery where Candy/A Good and Spacious Land is staged, a window looks out over the Gothic Revival towers of the school, with the more modern high-rises of downtown New Haven beyond.

Such postcard versions of the city are not what this dual exhibition portrays. Instead, its primary subjects are inhospitable freeway underpasses, empty factories frozen in time and people who mostly seem to have drawn the short straw in life. Permeating the show is a sense of loss, both personal and structural.

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There are hints of idyllic New Haven: a collage of colorful fall leaves, a photo of weathered bricks. But more often, photographers Jim Goldberg and Donovan Wylie focus on the overlooked or left behind. I-95 and I-91, particularly at the place where they meet, are major characters, as are the New Haveners photographed: some who love their city, and others who hate it.

In 2013, the two photographers were artists in residence at YUAG, and both photographers took the city as their subject. The San Franciscan Goldberg is actually from New Haven, born here in 1953, while the Belfast-based Wylie is from Ireland, born there in 1971. Goldberg’s photographs are often of residents, occasionally including the subject’s stance on the city and their place within it, communicated via text written onto the shot. Wylie, for his part, largely examines the inhuman underbellies of 95 and 91, which make the people that sometimes come into frame seem like trespassers.

Goldberg’s Candy shoots the city from a decidedly human perspective, meditating on himself and two others with New Haven childhoods. He tells his family’s story in the city, including the ascendancy of his father, a candy seller, to the position of Grand Master of a Masonic Lodge on Whitney Avenue. Profiled next is Germano Kimbro, whose father, Warren, took part in the murder of a fellow Black Panther, with the ensuing trial roiling the city in the early 1970s. He also documents the family and work of Joe Taylor, whose collection of historic New Haven images captures New Haven’s layered past as a center of invention and industry.

With Wylie, things get biblical. A Good and Spacious Land references Exodus 3:8: “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Starting with the city’s Puritan settlers, people have come to the area to build a new haven, or, as the sign on a church proclaims in one of his shots, a Nueva Jerusalen (“New Jerusalem”). Of course, the dream doesn’t always work. In the photo, for example, the church has a “for lease” sign.

A similar sort of emptiness flavors Wylie’s documentation of the two interstates. The spires of the freeways dominate the houses, churches and people they pass. For a city with a historical yen for urban planning—from John Brockett’s original nine-square plan, the first of its kind in America, to James Hillhouse’s and John Trumbull’s late-1700s campus plan for Yale, also the first of its kind in America, to the “urban renewal” era of the 1960s and ’s70s, which infamously sought to modernize the city—it is perhaps ironic that these spires allow motorists to drive through the city without really seeing it.

In many of Wylie’s shots, the sky is grey, a few shades brighter than the concrete rising into the sky. But the natural and earthy elements—soil, or brush, or brick, which, like a single sprout of grass through asphalt might symbolize nature as a whole, hark to the pastoral ideal imagined by Exodus, and metaphorically to more contemporary versions of the promised land—are the most vivid.

In their own ways, both Goldberg and Wylie seem to be asking: Is New Haven a good and spacious land, and if so, why do some of its people and places get so little of the milk and honey?

Candy/A Good and Spacious Land
Yale University Art Gallery – 1111 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm through August 20, 2017
(203) 432-0601
www.artgallery.yale.edu/exhibitions/exhibition/candya-good-and-spacious-land

Written by Anne Ewbank. Photo collage, titled Bus Stop, by Jim Goldberg.

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A California native and world traveler, Anne came to New Haven for graduate school and discovered that New England is as cold as everyone said it was. She loves reading books, playing guitar, exploring new towns and taking road trips but only as long as she gets to pick the music.

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