Courtney Johnson has a new series of work featured at Chelsea’s Jenkins Johnson Gallery called Cycle of Cities 1: Collapse. This is the first installment of a nine-part body of work examining the life/death cycle by way of civilization’s vital organs, cities. (Hint: the next cycle is rebirth.)

Johnson is an arbiter of alternative process photography. In this case, she begins by hand painting maps on glass or film in negative (called cliché-verre), then destroys the negative by way of water, fire, or force, depending on the city represented and its history. For instance, the New Orleans negative has been submerged, the Bagdad negative has been “bombed” and the Richmond negative burned. The result is then scanned, enlarged and printed.

Fire I (2011), representing the burning of Richmond in 1865, is a topographic rendering of Civil War Richmond, including military forts, literally set on fire to reveal the melting, heat, and discoloration of such a catastrophe. The visual outcome here is gripping; as are the veinlike cracks over Berlin, and the pointillistic blue-green bubbles overtaking a satellite image of Atlantis.

A southern photographer when “southern photography” can veer toward the uber-personal, Johnson’s work is anti-personal. It is universal. But its universality is so vital, so exemplary of the connectivity of all Life, that the images and their embedded narratives ultimately reach the core of every personal experience: of loss, of the beauty that is present even in loss.

Johnson states, “Not only do our stories and our heroes share universal recurring themes, but our earth and our cities also recreate these fundamental cycles. Beyond their power to destroy, water, fire, and explosions are symbols of cleansing and renewal. But first there is Collapse.”

Cycle of Cities 1: Collapse is on view at Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York through April 28, 2012. Courtney Johnson is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her work was recently added to the permanent collections of The National Museum of Photography in Bogotá, Colombia and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She briefly worked in the dark room of Richmond’s Dementi Studio between her BA at NYU and her MFA at University of Miami.

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