John Goodman, “Domenique,” 1993, silver gelatin print, 20 x 16 in.
John Goodman, “Domenique,” 1993, silver gelatin print, 20 x 16 in.
The Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland is currently showcasing the wide-ranging and impressive oeuvre of one of New England's most accomplished photographers, John Goodman. This is the first time the gallery has been working with Goodman and it is obvious that great care went into the selection of images, layout of the show, and electronic publication.

Goodman is a fine art, editorial and fashion photographer whose personal touch and sensibility thread through all of his work. He studied with Minor White (1908-1976) and his photographs are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among other institutions. His images have been published in many magazines, including the New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair. Currently Goodman teaches at the Art Institute of Boston and the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport. He lives in Boston and Friendship.

With 34 photographs, the earliest dating from 1973, Caldbeck's John Goodman: Black White + Blue affords a good introduction to the photographer's work. As the exhibition title suggests, most images are black-and-white gelatin silver and archival pigment prints, but some color prints of recently rediscovered Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides from the 1970s and '80s are also on display.

The selection includes only a couple of landscape motifs, urban scenes and still lifes; otherwise, people are the main subject and include boxers, ballerinas, fashion models and ordinary people, nude, pregnant or otherwise. But one thing that is striking about Goodman's images is that when aiming to describe one, it is impossible to reduce it to its subject matter. To pick probably the most straightforward image in the show: Yes, "Blanket/Coney Island" depicts a blanket forgotten on the beach, but there is so much more to this simplest of images. Without representing a single person, it suggests the sun, leisure, intimacy and memories (like the uncomfortable itchiness of sand on your skin). These themes are enriched by subtle formal elements, like textural continuity and the complication of boundaries and depths, as well as the tonal range of the print. In Goodman's work, subject and formal treatment are always perfectly and inextricably aligned.
Many of the photographs capture fortuitous moments and sights generally overlooked. Complex reflections, unintentionally comic situations, and sheer obliviousness to one's own appearance count among those. Any relatively decent photographer could make a good image out of those found subjects. It is Goodman's nonjudgmental empathy, sophisticated eye, and constant openness to discovery that turn his versions of life's absurdly entertaining and embarrassing moments into pictorial gems. Consider the perfectly framed shot of a young, curler-wearing woman in South Boston of 1977 that brims with human connection and complexity.

His images evidence a willingness to engage with and not just observe his subjects, even if it does not necessarily mean direct interaction. The best examples for this are Goodman's images of boxers at a now demolished gym in New York, his sensitive portrayals of Boston's adult entertainment district, the Combat Zone, and his series of photographs taken backstage at the Boston Ballet. These images are direct, yet never obtrusive; sympathetic, yet never white-washing. They capture raw and refined human energy, emotion and aspiration. The movement of boxers and dancers leaves their bodies blurred, with just a fluid core of them intact. Photographs from these two series are Goodman's most abstract images, in which form partially dissolves, spatial depth is clouded, and complex formal correspondences take over.

Another beautiful grouping of images highlights the artist's interest in continuities of forms, subjects, textures and bodies. As much as these are formal concerns expressed in the use of grain, selective focus and tonal range, they extend to the photographs' themes, as well, and suggest the human need for physical and emotional connection. In "Father's Day/Coney Island," two bodies, towels and sand are intertwined to the point where it becomes difficult to tell one from the other. In "Identity #2" and "Domenique," shadows and reflections, respectively, extend space and the human body outside of itself.

Goodman is in complete control of his medium, allowing for a level of sensitivity and atmospheric range that are remarkable. His images succeed in imbuing truth and beauty, even as their subjects inescapably change and disappear.