Upon his passing in April of 2020, Eric Lindbloom (1934– 2020) left a sprawling archive of prints, negatives, and books, including copies of monographs, such as his Angels at the Arno (Godine, 1994) and Salt Grass (Lodima Press, 2008), with images from Florence and his annual summer visits to Truro on Cape Cod, respectively. But Eric, a native of Michigan, lived most of his life in Poughkeepsie and photographed settings in the Hudson Valley over and over again. The Archives & Special Collections Library at Vassar College had already collected some of Eric’s Hudson Valley work, including the exquisite publication The River that Runs Two Ways (Brighton Press, 2000), a collaborative project pairing Eric’s photographs with texts by his beloved wife, the poet Nancy Willard (1936–2017). Now Special Collections has deepened Vassar’s holdings of Eric’s work in keeping with the teaching mission of the college, that is, not simply creating an anthology of striking images, but also enabling a view of Eric’s working process.
Eric’s active curiosity prompted him to find ever new photographs, minute variations on repeated images from familiar places. The results yielded expansively rigorous series, including Salt Marsh Grasses, Pinewoods, and Waves, part of the wonderfully insightful retrospective mounted in the James W. Palmer III Gallery at Vassar College in 2018, curated by Monica D. Church. That survey’s inclusion of Eric’s earlier photo series, such as Private Lives of Public Spaces and Angels at the Arno, along with portraits taken of Nancy throughout their marriage, enhanced the understanding of the breadth of Eric’ s artistic vision. Work Prints: Eric Lindbloom’s Panoramas of the Hudson Valley shifts the focus to a detailed study of the development of a small number of photographs by examining his work prints.
Eric’s photographs are held in the permanent collections of a number of institutions, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the New York Public Library, the Alinari Museum in Florence, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. He also exhibited widely, including at many Hudson Valley venues, such as the Center for Photography at Woodstock, an organization that he cofounded, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz, and the Barrett Art Center in Poughkeepsie. In whichever context you may see Eric’s work at present, you will find his deep attention to landscape and his commitment to returning to look again and again at the same object, the same scene.
It is this element of repetition that Work Prints, selected from his panoramic photographs newly acquired by Vassar, seeks to examine. Instructed by previous scholarship and following Eric’s abiding interest in the four elements, translated in his photography into light, soil, air, and water, Work Prints brings attention to this unexplored aspect of his artistic practice. Repetition is a key to Eric’s work both in the field, where he made repeated visits to the same sites, and in the darkroom, where he worked meticulously through variations on a repeated image with traditional black-and-white analogue methods, negatives, and light-sensitized paper to produce silver gelatin prints. Was he guided by an intuitive feel for what he saw, a sense of discovering what was in front of him? Or did he approach his work with a preconceived idea, trawling for images, informed by the photographs he’d already made? Above all, how did he create new work, or more fundamentally, how did he find the new in the familiar?
Limited Edition Prints and Work Prints · As the principal caretaker of Eric’s archives, I’ve divided his work into two main categories: Limited Edition Prints and Work Prints. In addressing Eric’s process rather than seeking to highlight an individual body of work or set of photographs, Work Prints consists of images selected from the second category.
In Eric’s practice, Limited Edition Prints state answers. They carry the certainty of a mature, fully realized photo series and look outwards towards an audience receiving them in an exhibition, collection, or publication, such as The River that Runs Two Ways, to which the images in Work Prints are closely related. In their finality and scarcity, with only so many prints to an edition, Limited Edition Prints hold an economic value that Work Prints do not. Considering the higher value both artistically and monetarily of Eric’s Limited Edition Prints, as they’ve appeared in shows, collections, and publications, what value do his Work Prints hold, and why select them for an exhibition?
Eric’s Work Prints ask questions. Endlessly variable and full of a restless energy, they hold space for alternate possibilities. Work Prints meander away from any clear sense of completion. Before you saw Eric’s elegantly modest photographs in an exhibition or monograph, there were Work Prints. Hundreds of Work Prints, dozens of copies of the same image in alternate interpretations: a darker corner, a lighter sky. Made not for the general public, but for Eric himself, Work Prints point inwards as a means of exploring ideas and sharpening his observations. If Limited Edition Prints serve as the final destination, Work Prints serve as the country roads, accumulating experiences in preparation for arrival.
Light · In Eric’s darkroom, we stand together in the dark. He attends to a print, an experiment with a photograph he’s unsure of. Peering over his broad shoulders, I observe the final adjustments. And from Eric’s interlaced fingers spring a pewter pea, a black tablecloth, a sterling seagull casting its shadow as it skirts the shoreline of the easel’s edge. Watching his movements, I observe the skillful use of dodging and burning—a technique by which he can alter the brightest and darkest parts of a photograph, covering a corner here, uncovering a corner there, adding and subtracting the amount of light dispersed, often using a square sheet of cardboard with a hole in its center. Eric’s preferred method to achieve the results he wants—a photograph with a well-balanced distribution of black, white, and gray tones—is to use his hands to intuitively feel his way through the material.
Long before I called myself a photographer, when I first met Eric, the sheer volume of his Work Prints staggered me. As he taught me, his new assistant, through instructions and stories, I would gaze with amazement at the cardboard boxes crammed from floor to ceiling, filling shelves, tucked underneath tables, each scrawled with a project’s name and date: “Nepal 1995,” “Shawangunk 1973,” “Cape Cod 2001.” The seemingly never-ending stacks catalogued fifty years of work as a photographer, a measurement of time impossible for a young assistant to fully comprehend.
Soil · Notice the difference in light striking the grass, mown short or left long, in the first three plates. The photographs are similarly composed. In Plate 1 (Jenkins-Lueken Orchards, New Paltz, NY, 1991), the singular apple tree appears on the image’s right side, in Plate 2 (Jenkins-Lueken Orchards, New Paltz, NY, 1991) on its left. As you observe Plate 1, let your eyes settle into the deep shadows that anchor the foreground in the bottom right corner. Drift out of the shadows towards the apple tree in the middle ground, whose limbs disappear off the frame’s top edge. Follow this vertical energy, moving laterally along the branch that stretches across the mown path, pointing back to the image’s center. And notice the gentle diagonal curve running from bottom right to upper left. In Plate 2, the diagonal now runs from bottom left to upper right. The shift is small but important, a half step to the right, a few steps to the left, providing a window into Eric’s process as he moved around his subject. Each angle, each Work Print, offers a new image, with its own character and weight. Taken together, these images, nearly identical, wink at each other, inviting us to enjoy their richly detailed similarities and differences.
Air · Considering Plates 8–11, we join Eric peering through thickets of vegetation. In Plate 8 (Iona Island, Stony Point, NY, 1994), notice how the dry stalks of grass seemingly grow out of the frame’s bottom edge in a rush of vertical lines that obscures a mountain or a hill behind them. Impossible to say for sure what it is, peering through shafts of tangled branches and trampled grass. And in Plate 9 (Tivoli Bays, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, 1996), will-o’-the-wisps float horizontally across the composition, where my eyes land on the frame’s right edge, moving to my left, reading, as it were, script in Arabic or Hebrew. Notice how their diamond shapes almost flutter, set against the oval petals of the trees behind them.
From these enclosed spaces, we emerge onto a hillside in Plates 10 and 11 (both titled Roosevelt Historic Site, Hyde Park, NY, 1993). The air is heavy with the morning’s fog, rising slowly to reveal a pair of solitary trees. With a strong graphic weight that anchors the right and left sides of the compositions— sturdy black vertical lines set against a ribbon of white behind them—the trees pull my eyes directly to them. As my eyes wander farther back into the frame, they pick out a vast plain of black marks set against the soft grays and whites, the dissipating mist revealing a stand of trees and the stripes of mown lawn dotting the gentle slope of the horizon line.
Water · In Plates 12–18, Eric and water are still shy friends, not yet such good companions as they will be, years later, when he begins his Waves series, his legs and tripod planted in the sea at Truro. Watch as Eric approaches water and moves closer and then farther away. In Plate 12 (Ice Floes and Hudson, Kingston, NY, 1991), he stands at the water’s edge, snow crunching beneath him. Follow the broken ice floes that form a triangle of hard, angular, winter light leading your eye up to the single black tree. In Plates 14 and 15, Eric retreats. Notice the glints of water in dark tones of gray, the waves of a shore seen through a ring of trees, their vines sweeping across the composition in a gentle arc. Look again through the thicket of branches and vines to the glints of silver darting across the frame, a creek or stream barely visible in the composition’s background. Eric’s movements suggest an early acquaintance with water, a period of friendly observation.
Departure · I am a slow learner. It has taken me fifteen years, nearly half my life, to find answers to my questions. Surrounded by Eric’s Work Prints, a calendar of his passions and inquiries, in July of 2020, I finally understand. “Yes,” I tell myself, “this is what work looks like, a career and a lifetime spent making, thinking about, and revising photographs.” Now I begin to grasp the import of Eric’s working method. Why the need to make dozens of copies of the same image? Not for the sake of perfection, though Eric’s Work Prints, a mastery of subtly rendered, delicately crafted tones, are very nearly perfect. No, it is the commitment to process, which is to say to learning. The great masters—and Eric Lindbloom is a master photographer—are always learning, and that is what they teach.
Sasha Louis Bush (b. 1987) is an artist and educator based in New York City who works with photographs and video. Bush received his MFA from ICP-Bard (2017) and his BA from Hampshire College (2009). Bush currently teaches at Oakwood Friends School and has taught at the school of the International Center of Photography, Poughkeepsie Day School, Vassar College’s Lifelong Learning Institute, and SUNY New Paltz’s Lifetime Learning Institute. His work has been exhibited at the Camera Club of New York, ICP, and Barrett Art Center, among others, and is held in the collections of the ICP Library in New York City and the Clara M. Eagle Gallery at Murray State University in Kentucky