Regina DeLuise
The photographs of Regina DeLuise have that classical look, so depending on your prejudice they’re likely to produce either immediate pleasure or instant suspicion.

I suspect both reactions of superficiality. For one thing, DeLuise understands how both the seductions and the risks she’s courting are built into her technique: “The palladium contact prints casts images in a sepia light that most people associate with 19th century pictures. I use an 8 x10 Wista camera and 100% rag layout bond, which is hand coated with palladium, then exposed to an ultraviolet light source. In Florence I printed in the sun. It was a challenge to confront the most classical of landscapes with a photographic medium that, by it’s nature, creates an ‘antique’patina, and still make strong contemporary photographs.” But the connection with classical photography is not merely technical. It is no surprise to learn that the landscape drawings pinned to the wall in one photograph are by DeLuise herself; so many of the early photographers trained their eyes by way of their hand, not just the view finder, and DeLuise shares that kind of compositional clarity.

Her photographs also show an eye for the most delicate textural nuance. That may be why, beyond the somewhat factitious sepia glow of memory, these pictures recall the massiveness and precision of the 19th century topographical views. There is an almost acidic objectivity at work here. To see a bit of Italian masonry in one of these photographs is to feel that it was meant to be translated into just this wash of tonalities on this grain of paper.
DeLuise’s objectivity is complicated, however, because it is an objectivity toward how something is seen as well as (what we expect from “straight“ photography) toward what is seen. This may be clearer if we look at DeLusie’s images of Italy with this passage in mind, written by David Carrier in his discussion of the paintings of Frances Lansing, an American artist who lives and works in Florence:

Our “Italy” is less the real place inhabited by the Italians than a highly overdetermined cultural stereotype, a verbal and visual cliché. Richard Shiff has noted an interesting connection between the concept of the cliché and photography: “a photographer’s negative (in French, the cliché) acquires aura as a kind of plenitude of handling” Like the photograph, the cliché is a product of the era of mechanical reproduction, that era when pictures and texts are produced for mass consumption. For all us non-Italians, from tourists on bus tours to the sophisticated visitor, Italy has a certain aura, a product of chichés (which may of course not be altogether untruthful) determining how we see Italy.

What is so striking about DeLuise’s photographs from Italy is their power to make the cliché and the reality almost coincide, to caress the viewer with a efficacious incarnation of his dearest idea of Italy and at the same time prick him (Barthes’s punctum) with fresh and unfamiliar perceptions. In other words, these pictures indulge in an extremely refined form of sentimentality, then carry that refinement even further in order to deliver the joussance that occurs when the sentiment one has enjoyed is shattered at just the moment when it would otherwise have begun to cloy.

More recently, DeLuise has been taking photographs in the American northeast—New York State and Vermont. As one might expect, the change of scene is also a change in theme. The American pictures are less atmospheric. They transmute the almost sedimentary tonal variegations of the Italian pictures into something smoother, more metallic. A blow-up rubber raft looks as hard and seductive as Koons’s steel bunny. Figure/ground oppositions become more marked allegorizing that alienation of Americans from their landscape that D.H. Lawrence noted in his Studies in Classic American Literature, perhaps. The American photographs are more straightforward than the Italian ones-or at least they appear that way. It’s undoubtedly harder to see through a cliché about oneself than about someone else. But I suspect Regina DeLuise is seeing more than I can yet account for.

Regina DeLuise,  Her World   by Barry Schwabsky

Let’s concede that the world is everything that is the case. I understand “everything” here to include not only things but relations among things, including the relationship known as perception. In any case, the one thing we know about everything that is the case is that no one knows what that is. We know some of the things that are the case, and can speculate with some confidence about several others; that’s all.

The same philosopher who defined the world as everything that is the case also wrote: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” The world is one thing, my world another. Let me suggest: My world is an interpretation of the world. I mean this just in the same sense that an actor gives an interpretation of a role, or a musician interprets a score. Richard Burton’s interpretation of Hamlet was undoubtedly different from that of John Gielgud, just as Wilhelm Kempff’s played a Beethoven sonata somewhat differently than Artur Schnabel. Something different is revealed in each case—but never is everything revealed. An interpretation simultaneously reduces what it interprets (selects, establishes limits) and adds to it—a valid interpretation of Hamlet, for instance, always adds something that no other interpreter has found, and which, for that matter, Shakespeare did not put there.

A photograph is an interpretation of the world. Regina DeLuise could rightly describe what is seen in her pictures as her world because, through the very act of selecting from the world, she’s added something, expanding our understanding of what might be the case—given something that was not there before, something that was not yet the case until the making of the photograph. First of all, she selects tone as a language for rendering light; in agreement with a longstanding photographic tradition but in contradiction to most current practice in the field, she understands that something of the mute and irreducible existence of things can be expressed more forcefully in shades of gray than through prismatic color. Strange: the color of things is not recorded in these photographs, but it is not missing from them. 

Few photographs embody a world made of things but shades of gray as fully as DeLuise’s Porch, Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY, 2018. The image is so nebulous that at first you might think it is simply out of focus; the more closely you look at it, the less you see. Better to lean back a bit and let the shadows gather into forms. In doing so, you’ll also become more conscious of the vertical folds that traverse the immediate foreground, which show that we are seeing this space through a kind of scrim—perhaps not literally a gauzy fabric, but perhaps a sheet of plastic? In any case, by eliminating any extreme contrasts of light and dark, this material through which we see reinterprets the black and white world as a plane on which shadows are gathered and dispersed rather than as a stage on which volumetric objects are situated. 

Perhaps the most important factor of selection and limitation, for any photographer, is the act of framing—the particular way I take a (typically rectangular) “cut” from the world to show as “my” world. On this matter, DeLuise’s photographs sometimes offer a meta-commentary—they draw deliberate attention to their framing so as to make it part of the work’s subject. A good example would be Table and Chairs, Bogliasco, Italy, 2017, where what centrally occupies the frame is not the furniture mentioned in the title, but rather the framed view out a large window onto a nearby tree trunk and the surrounding landscape, which includes not only more distant trees but also a fence separating the single nearby tree from the rest but also echoes the horizontal and vertical elements of the window itself, the sash and frame. The world “out there” is at once wild and irregular, like the bark of the tree or the spreading branches and leaves of the closest one on the other side of the fence, but it is also divided up, with a geometry that is both imposed on the terrain and inherent in our means for getting a view on it (the window). At the same time, as the wood grain of the table in the foreground reminds us, the very planes of our artfully or artificially constructed world incorporate the wild matter of the world beyond and before geometry. Etymologically, a camera is a room; this picture reminds us that although part of the function of the camera is to separate itself and its operator from the world—to put the world, temporarily, “over there” in order to get a view on it—the apparetus is also part of the world that it is trying to get a view on. Except in a mirror, however, it can never show itself, but here, DeLuise evokes the working of the camera without including its reflection in her frame.

Showing me something of her world, the world that appears only through the camera by means of which she interprets the world—like a Kempff or a Schnabel interpreting through an instrument they handle as only they know how—DeLuise at the same time shows me how she shows me her world. This redoubling, by which she not only offers an interpretation not only of the world but of her interpretive apparatus, is not only in the interest of cognitive penetration. It also makes possible a further extremity of pleasure.


Finding Fresh Images for an Evergreen Subject

Imagine a show where a Robert Mapplethorpe is far less interesting than a work by a Regina DeLuise, where a Joel Meyerowitz or an Eliot Porter is eclipsed by a Richard Warren.

''Glorious Gardens,'' at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery, includes a handful of big names, but they seem to serve as the pro forma backdrop for an astonishing number of little-known photographers, like Ms. DeLuise and Mr. Warren, who bring surprising freshness to a very familiar subject.

Ms. DeLuise, for instance, Brooklyn-born and in her 30's, produces classic platinum-palladium prints with lush shadows and crisp light. But she trains her camera on a commonplace hydrangea on a white fence, or a terra cotta pot holding a plant seemingly on its last legs, or a plain wooden chair in front of a window looking out on an unusually wild formal garden.

Mr. Warren, a commercial photographer, also in his 30's, zeroes in on the backs of wrought-iron garden chairs to create an elegant abstraction of bold swirls.

In an intricate study by Jean Kallina, the hard outlines of window panes, beyond which is an interior courtyard, are frames within frames for a thick twisting branch and the soft lines of trees and nearby buildings. Ms. Kallina teaches photography at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and has worked on collaborative prints with the painter Julian Schnabel.

''Glorious Gardens'' keeps the familiar or copycat images to a minimum. It gets this problem out of the way right at the beginning of the show, through the varied work of Jed Devine, who teaches photography at the State University of New York at Purchase in Westchester County. In his pictures, which come in all sizes, you see traces of Walker Evans (with whom Mr. Devine studied and printed), Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Josef Sudek. Similarly, Tom Baril's sumptuous, relatively large (23-by-18-inch) close-ups of lilies and a sunflower invite comparison with the Mapplethorpe flower photographs. Mr. Baril, who for many years was Mr. Mapplethorpe's printer, seems to have absorbed his chilly esthetic.

Although ''Glorious Gardens'' doesn't include the intoxicating splendor of an Imogene Cunningham, there are lots of treasures, even from the well known.

Karl Blossfeld is perhaps too famous for his studies of plants with unpronounceable names that put up a dramatic front, shooting straight up or curling at the ends. Here there is an unusual picture of Achillea clypeolata blossoms, which resemble baby sunflowers with thick dark centers that in turn resemble colonies of insects. Josef Sudek is, as always, superb: an old wicker chair about to be overtaken by plant growth looks nonchalant, seemingly content with what it has already seen.

Pride of place (that is, hanging over the gallery's fireplace) goes to Sandi Fellman's large prints of daisies. Ms. Fellman's close-ups are the same size as Mr. Baril's, but they are different on two counts. One, there is much less of a need to show the perfect flower under perfect lighting, so there is more spontaneity. Two, Ms. Fellman's flowers aren't the showy lily or sunflower but the simple daisy and the tiny lily of the valley. The results are photographs that transform the humble to amazing objects of desire.

Now and then, the show pairs disparate work, and occasionally such pairings work to one photographer's advantage. Airy pictures by Dr. Dick Arentz, for example, are positioned above murky ones by Rocky Schenck. Dr. Arentz, an oral surgeon in Flagstaff, Ariz., has been a photographer since the early 1970's, and his panoramic views of wrought iron chairs in a French park are wonderfully calligraphic. In one, the chairs are lined up in a big, lazy swirl; in the other, they are randomly scattered.

The Schenck pictures, while accentuating the minimalism in the Arentz images, are by themselves unsatisfying. Black on black -- some of Roy de Carava's photographs come to mind -- can be dazzling, but murk for the sake of murk is not. Similarly, the patently synthetic pictures of red and yellow flowers by Peter Dayton, which he describes as color laser Xerox collages with polymer resin, can be construed as downtown ironic. But given the company they are keeping, they are about as appealing as political buttons.

In any show of gardens, it's probably inevitable that greeting-card images will creep in. And the Polaroid transfers of flowers by Masaaki Kazama are no different from the images on cards carried by the pricier stationery stores.

Perhaps they, too, are in the show for a reason. For on the same wall as these pretty things, and gaining handsomely by the proximity even as it is inexplicably wedged along a narrow corridor, is the show's last, largest and most transcendent work.

''Dark Sun No. 20, 1994/97,'' by Barbara Jaffe, is a negative print, something little explored by photographers. The ghostly close-up of irises is surreally familiar and unfamiliar, and sums up the human fascination with flowers: the eternally beautiful with an infernally short life span.
''Glorious Gardens'' remains at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery, 52 East 76th Street, Manhattan, through June 28.