December 6, 2019

May Gallery features work of photo critic Stephen Perloff

When Stephen Perloff looked out of his airplane window, he saw a blanket of clouds extending into the horizon. As the plane dipped below the clouds, he said, he felt awestruck and immediately started taking pictures.

“You never know what you’re going to see when you dip below the clouds,” Perloff said. “Intuitively, I saw the delicate calligraphy of the tractor ruts.”

Stephen Perloff stands with “North Dakota #6” at the May Gallery. He only had 15 minutes to take his aerial photos, whereas some of his other projects had taken years. Photo by John Hund.

For the next 15 minutes of the plane’s descent, Perloff took pictures out of his remarkably clear window seat to capture the minimalist beauty of rural America.

The May Gallery is featuring these photos, among others, from Perloff’s Western U.S. travels, in a show titled, “North Dakota— and other places.” The series will be on view through Nov. 27. The other photos featured from the gallery are places Perloff had already visited, but also places he said he felt he needed to go again.

Perloff has done many photo series in his career. He said his passion for photography eventually led him to create his own journal.

As an emerging photography reviewer, Perloff said he was looking to publish his reviews in a local newspaper. The papers in the mid-‘70s, according to him, were already full. Working for a print shop at the time, he decided to do something on his own.

In 1976, Perloff co-founded The Photo Review, a biannual magazine that reviews photo shows and photography from all across the continent. According to him, it is one of the premiere photo review journals in the Northeastern U.S.

One of his first photo projects is called, “Philadelphia: Past and Present.” The series, Perloff said, is a re-photographed project. He went to the locations of photos taken by William Jennings in the 1920s to recapture and compare them to the locations in 1980. The project took a little over a year.

Some projects he said, are longer than others. For 13 years, he documented the plight of the city of Centralia, Pennsylvania, infamous for its underground coal mine fire.

“I would go three or four days a week, and we would take everyone’s picture” Perloff said. “A combination of growing up in the region, being able to spell the local names without going to ask, and showing up regularly really gave me some access to the community.”

From 1983 to 1996, Perloff took hundreds of photos documenting the town’s crisis.

Most of his photography, Perloff said, took a year or more to create noting the busier he got, the harder it was to take up long-term projects.

That’s what makes the North Dakota series special, he said. Instead of meticulous planning and artwork, the snapshots of the snow-covered landscape were spontaneous and lucky.

“They are different from any other collection I’ve done,” Perloff said. “Sometimes you just have to go do what the photo gods tell you to do. I am very happy I was able to do that.”

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