Book Review: Dyckman Haze
By Ashley Yu
There are only so many spots of sanctuary amongst the suffocating throng of bodies, rushing to and fro, on the island we have come to know as Manhattan. Photographer Adam Pape sets out on an exploration of New York City parks throughout Dyckman Haze: a compilation of such dreamlike havens and those who inhabit them. All taken in monochrome, Pape wanders through Washington Heights and Inwood Park to discover the intersection between restless Humanity and inscrutable Nature that emerges out of moonlight.
It is the faces of people--the sanctuary seekers--that capture Pape’s eye the most. Their faces are almost all in profile but are obscured by smoke, haze, or hair. Paradoxically enough, it is in such public spaces that people can exist privately for themselves. In one image, a young man sits alone on a bench with a joint in hand. Pieces of weathered stone intrude into the blurred foreground, framing the anonymous figure on both sides. The angle of the photograph itself seems as if Pape was concealing himself in fear of intruding on a moment of privacy. In another photo, an older woman stares, distracted by something out of frame. Her brows sink in contemplation, or maybe in distaste, over immaculately lined eyes. Her bleached white hair falls--in that artfully windswept way--over her right eye. All of Pape’s portraits contain a lingering sense of emotional profundity--the same sense you get when trying to look beyond a veil, hoping to recognize something familiar.
Peppered amongst images of humans both restless and resting, Pape is enamored with the raw presence of Nature that manifests itself in, well, skunks. With snarling teeth speared into a leftover corn cob, a skunk’s eyes reflect blank under Pape’s flash. The shadow created from Pape’s illumination renders the usually harmless animal into a surprisingly feral creature, skitting around human life. They are no longer the cute singing woodland animals of fairy tales and it is the humans who are intruding into their world.
Pape constructs an almost mythical perception of New York City parks by framing raw Nature with the restlessness of his human portraits. Parks in New York are sacred sites of relief, perhaps more so than in other cities, from the infinite sets of eyes you meet on the streets. Upon some unspoken rule bequeathed from centuries ago, we uphold and resonate with the significance of seeking solace in these little green places. These places are sites of rare coexistence and of mutual recognition between human beings, enigmatic forces of Nature, and a small handful of skunks.