Elena Dorfman: “Sublime: The LA River” at Modernism Inc.


Sometimes history has an interesting way of repeating itself. Layers of time leave marks and impressions on the landscape, carrying with it stories and visual cues that lapse or remain. The indelibility of these historical traces is documented in Elena Dorfman’s series of photographs on view at Modernism. “Sublime: The LA River” features several large-scale works printed on metallic paper that imparts an eerie glow.

The Los Angeles River was originally christened El Río de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula by Franciscan explorers who descended upon indigenous Tongva land in 1769. The concrete channeling of the river as we know it today was initiated in 1938. Dorfman visited the river and took thousands of photographs, then layered them with historical archives to create acutely detailed and painterly collage. The layers contest the notion that photography “captures” moments or freezes time; here, time is stretched, and the history of a single location spans the years. The layers also impart a blurry quality that creates a sense of uncertainty. In true Transcendentalist fashion, much like the painters of the Hudson River School or of European Romanticism of the 1800s, Dorfman’s landscapes conjure the deep-seated awe of confronting vast space.

In particular, Sublime LA 8 and 10 place the viewer at water’s edge, seemingly hovering just out of frame above a presumed embankment. Breathtakingly vivid color enhances each ripple in the water, and each branch on the foliage. Small clues of human presence remark upon the fragility of nature, such as white plastic grocery store bags tangled in the bramble, or a skeletal powerline rising above the trees. Human intervention with nature is especially pointed in series numbers 4 and 7, where Dorfman has utilized bridge underpasses to create bold geometric compositions. In each of these, the Brutalistlike black-and-gray concrete alongside ochre and olive toned plant-life is reflected in the water below. The mirroring in the reflections creates an enclosed feeling, emphasizing the domineering effects of colonialization and industry. Dorfman is most well-known for her documentation of cultural and sexual practices within marginalized and deviant social communities, including Fandomania which explores the participants of Cosplay, or Still Lovers featuring people who live with Real Dolls. In the last three years, she has been pursuing landscape. While the portraiture has its merits as historical archive of fringe societies, the landscapes implore the viewer to look within themselves, rather than gaze at others

Sublime LA 10
Elena Dorfman
Pigment print on metallic paper
33 1⁄2″ x 69 1⁄2″
Photo: courtesy of Modernism Inc.