Ken Rosenthal turns his lens toward the world in a bid to illuminate the ineffable. His work is an ongoing meditation on the principle of “as within, so without,” harnessing the potential of imagery to convey what he terms “internal physical and psychological states.” The ethereal, veil-like quality of light in Rosenthal’s pictures turns each frame into a “thin place,” one where the barrier between the earthly and the beyond has dissolved away. To stand before one is to share a border with a spiritual and deeply personal realm.
Rosenthal’s pictures would not look out of place in a survey of early-twentieth century Pictorialism. A movement that evolved as photography’s practitioners sought to legitimize the medium as an art form, Pictorialism was marked by the use of more “painterly” techniques such as soft focus, dramatic lighting, and combination printing. The Pictorialists employed symbolism and allegory, often choosing subject matter derived from mythology. Rosenthal draws his imagery from a personal cosmology, one informed by a deep affinity for landscape and a collector’s eye for detail.
Rosenthal is a masterful printer, typically altering his prints substantially in the darkroom through selective bleaching, toning, and blurring. In his early work he employed a diffused printing style that lent his photographs a thick, palpable atmosphere, as if they had been taken through a dense fog. Recently, Rosenthal has gravitated to sharper pictures that rely on the controlled use of light to transport the viewer.
From The Forest, a twilit view of entropy in Washington State’s old-growth forests, to Seen and Not Seen, which took the artist back through his archive of family snapshots in an investigation of personal mythology and the limits of memory, Ken Rosenthal mingles the specific with the universal. The origins of his imagery are often as obscure to the viewer as the subjects themselves, seeming to come from a collective unconscious rather than anyplace that could be pinned to a map.
Editor's Note: Rosenthal's work is beautiful to behold in person—so don't miss your chance to acquire one of his prints through the 2014 INFOCUS Silent Auction at the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, AZ. Online bidding has begun; the auction itself will be held on October 17, 2014. All proceeds benefit INFOCUS, the Museum’s support organization that fosters the appreciation and advancement of photography.