Contemporary American photographer, Richard Misrach (b. 1949), captures scenes that show man’s fragility as well as man’s power to impact the natural world. His series On the Beach, focuses on this delicate balance between man and sea. Snapping pictures of sunbathers from his Hawaiian hotel room balcony, many of his images are detached references that appear idyllic while also causing the viewer some indefinable discomfort. This sense of impending dread is carefully planned in Misrach’s compositions - many images in the series were shot just after 9/11, and the title of the series comes from Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel about a nuclear holocaust. The book’s dark tone is reflected in Misrach’s photographs, and like Shute’s novel the images speak about humanity, life, and ultimately death.
These banners feature an untitled work from 2003 that highlights the play of light and form upon the vast sea. The banner is a slice of the ocean, a shining mass of turquoise shades of blue rich with ripples, waves, and sunlight. Two small female figures float on their backs in the midst of this. They are together yet separate, both from each other and from nature. Although immersed in the water, they do not seem a part of it, but rather intruders. Showing single human figures floating among the rippling sea, Misrach is able to create a sense of vastness and futility in which the human gesture is minute against the grandeur of the sea. Misrach also manages to express an ambiguity in this work, and a feeling of uncertainty as to the reality his figures. They may be relaxing in the water, or they may be floating out to sea unaware of the dangerous tide luring them out.
At the top of the image is blue and white text that reads “Richard Misrach/On the Beach”. The dates of the exhibition are in black “September 15 – November 25”. At the bottom of the banner is the name of the museum, “The Art Institute of Chicago”. The other side of the banner is brick red with white and yellow text that reads “American Perspectives/a yearlong celebration of American artistic vision/Art Institute/Chicago Symphony/Poetry Foundation”.