By: Daria Sokolova
New York-based photographer Jessica Dimmock brings her award-winning exhibition “The Ninth Floor” to the Gage Gallery this fall.
The exhibit kicks off the new theme of a personalized documentary that will be presented in the gallery during the 2013-14 academic year.
Michael Ensdorf, director of the Gage Gallery, said he saw Dimmock’s exhibit in New York in 2007 and had been wanting to bring the show to Roosevelt ever since.
“’The Ninth Floor’ deals with drug addiction and a type of documentary photography that’s interesting to me,” Ensdorf said. “It’s more of a personalized documentary. Jessica gets involved with the subject in a very connected way, in a very, almost, devoted way.”
Dimmock’s work has been exhibited in various museums across Europe and the United States and has won a few prestigious awards including the F Award for Concerned Photography and the Photo District News Marty Forscher Fellowship.
But according to Ensdorf, that was not the only factor that has influenced his choice.
“There is just one type of photography that I wanted to show this year and that was this more personalized documentary or engaged documentary,” Ensdorf said.
The new exhibit takes the viewer to the ninth floor of a squalid New York apartment that sees a continuous exchange of tenants’ ongoing struggle with addiction and the vicious circle that draws in heroin users.
“There are very violent circumstances,” Ensdorf said. “Violence to themselves, violence to each other, and the photographs themselves also have kind of an aggressiveness to them. It’s not an attentive style. It’s a very aggressive style of photography, and I think it shows just how closely Jessica was able to get to the subject.”
Ensdorf added that although the exhibit includes some drastic images that capture the dysfunctional lifestyle or traumatic moments of their objects’ lives, the gallery will run most of them. According to him, these pictures reflect the volatile atmosphere of the apartment.
“I think the point of this body of work is that you can’t sugarcoat this kind of activity, this kind of lifestyle and this kind of problem, really,” Ensdorf explained. “You can’t sugarcoat it, and it needs to be pretty raw. I think it becomes more powerful when it’s that way.”
As Ensdorf noted, Dimmock’s show doesn’t give the viewer much room for interpretation. Instead, it directly points out the problem and encourages the audience to make observations.
“The work just kind of hits you over the head,” Ensdorf explained. “It’s not easy work. It’s a type of photography. It is part of photojournalistic and documentary tradition, where photographers get involved in their subject, and subjects let the photographers get involved with their life, which is a very important part of this project … The photographers are in the middle of things, and the pictures reflect that intimacy. It’s a very intimate portrait of this lifestyle.”
The Brooklyn apartment was not the only place Dimmock used for shooting. After starting the project in 2004, she followed her subjects over the course of the next few years and was able to document some of the most intimate moments of their lives.
“What’s interesting about Jessica’s work is that she follows her subjects over a long period of time, and so they live on the ninth floor in this apartment, then they get kicked out of the apartment … then they try to work back into a normal life, then they relapse and go backwards,” Ensdorf said. “There is lots of activity here, and she follows and photographs. It’s a little different from the prison world because it focuses on very specific individuals. This is really personal, and I think that’s what makes it different than the other shows.”
Tyra Robertson, media coordinator for the Gage Gallery, made the arrangements for the exhibition over the summer and was the first person to show Dimmock the Gage Gallery last fall.
“Jessica just takes amazing pictures,” Robertson said. “She is able to put herself in places and kind of make herself invisible. Some of the images that people see are very startling, and it seems amazing that anybody could have caught those that didn’t know these people very well. That in itself is great.”
In her work, Dimmock intertwines elaborate photo techniques with the sense of drama that accompanies every photo. Blurry and sharp, yellow and dark-brown images present drug users in different settings which depict the process of struggle.
Apart from stating the obvious problem, the exhibit takes the viewer on a journey that demonstrates the phases drug addicts go through.
“We all understand that drugs can affect everybody’s lives. That’s not new,” Ensdorf said. “What might be slightly new or at least a little different is that the individuals who are in this apartment are being represented this way by her, and that might be kind of a new thing.”
Ensdorf added that social trauma and dysfunctional lifestyles also can educate people and help them to understand the problems they have never encountered.
“Documentary in photojournalistic photography, that’s a nice large umbrella, and it basically says that we show pictures about the world and sometimes, the conditions in the world that are traumatic and difficult and problematic, social issues that photographs can shed light on and help people understand,” Ensdorf said.
Robertson added that “The Ninth Floor” debunks the myth that drugs only affect certain groups of society.
“It brings light to a drug conversation or conversation about addiction that doesn’t happen a lot of times when drugs and addiction are talked about,” she said. “They are talked about in poor communities and non-white communities, and it’s kind of like the culture of being white in America: there is no drug use at all.”
The exhibit showcases a few different stories. The main story of a drug house breaks off into smaller narratives about particular individuals and their battles with addiction.
“A portion of photography has always been about going out, finding something and coming back and showing it to people since the very beginning of photography,” Ensdorf said. And that’s one of the most powerful aspects of photography. … Because it’s about these photographers, very brave individuals who expose themselves to all kinds of conditions to tell the story and to bring the story back and to engage us: the viewer, the audience with what they saw. That’s powerful.”
“The Ninth Floor” by Jessica Dimmock is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, with financial support from Susan B. Rubnitz. Additional support was provided by Flax Art and Frame. The exhibition will run from Sept.12 to Dec. 14. The opening reception with photographer Jessica Dimmock will take place Sept. 12 from 5 to 8 p.m.