On the cosmic, the subatomic and salad dressing

BEIRUT: Oil and vinegar are two condiments most frequently used in salad dressing. Mixing the acidity of the vinegar with the range of flavors you may find in olive oil can make an ideal combination to enhance and refresh a tasteless garnish, wilted in the summer heat.

The dissimilarity of the two liquids also has a visual aspect. More than one youngster has been intrigued by the way oil floats on top of vinegar when his mother’s salad dressing separates into its two component parts.

The visual qualities of oil and vinegar have also inspired U.S. photographer Ron Nicolaysen. Witness “As Above, So Below,” the Hermetically inflected title of Nicolaysen’s exhibition, currently up at Furn al-Shubbak’s Cynthia Nouhra Art Gallery (CNAG).

“As Above, So Below” is comprised of a series of 28 untitled pieces, all examinations of how the visual qualities of these liquids can be variously lit and photographed in close-up, thereby, it is hoped, transforming them into evocative works of art.

In the exhibition notes, it is explained that Nicolaysen photographed his subjects through a Petri dish (that circular plate associated with laboratory biologists’ cultivation of bacteria and the like) with “a spotlight from below.”

One photo features an orange smear surrounded by dapples of grey, white and gold. The image is not unlike the penumbra of a quasar as captured by an electronic telescope.

In another of Nicolaysen’s works, a layer of blackness appears to cover a deep blue fundament. In the exhibition notes, the photographer writes that when composing some of these shots, he added blue food dye to his subjects, as a result of which the works can convey the impression of staring into the deepest ocean abyss.

Other works resemble liquids passing into a state of crystallization. These photographs bear similarity to tapestry, through the slenderness of these crystal stripes.

Over his 40-year career, Nicolaysen has worked on a wide range of projects. On one hand his career has betrayed a penchant for activism – his work on human trafficking, for instance, and with the United Nations’ Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW). He’s also created a range of striking portraits, breathtaking landscapes, worked on oceanographic documentary and captured images from the ephemeral world of European and the U.S. haute couture.

The photographer has long expressed a fascination with the cosmic and the subatomic – thus, presumably, the title of this show. So if onlookers meandering among the cleverly contrived shots of mundane culinary liquids feel they are staring at photographs of pulsars or what have you, the show must be rated a success.

Nicolaysen’s photographs of oil and vinegar can be captivating. For some onlookers, the fact that his work is able to imbue these mundane elements with a transcendental quality may only add to their fascination.

The philosophically minded may also appreciate the fact that what you see is not what was really photographed, perhaps reflecting our desire to see more in something than there really is.

Ron Nicolaysen’s “As Above, As Below” is on display at Furn al-Shubbak’s Cynthia Nouhra Art Gallery until July 19. For more information, call 01-281-755 or 03-186-294.





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