Essay by Fred Sigman
For two years, Kathleen Nathan gazed through her Brooklyn apartment windows and from her rooftop terrace, at the monolithic structure that was once the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building. The Romanesque style tower, built in 1929, was converted to condominium apartments six years ago. Like Alfred Stieglitz did from the windows of his American Place gallery, Nathan observed the changing light and contrast of this tower, and other nearby buildings, often photographing how the character of the skyscraper changed through the shifting patterns and color of light. In this exhibition, one of those photographs of the tower is included. The brickwork of her apartment is seen on the left, while on the right, an abstraction of the tower prismatically floats on the window glass. The sides are divided by a shaft of blue color.
Windows as mirrors is a visual motif often used by Nathan in her other works, where questions of transparency and reflection are explored. Some of those photographs are lyrical and layered with image. The photographs exhibited here, while poetically composed, are literal or straight images of real places that exist outside of her apartment. The buildings of her Brooklyn neighborhood are brought inside through their reflection onto the surface of the windows; the transparent glass becomes the silvered reflective surface. Using photographic techniques of selective focus and close up framing, some through long focal length lenses, the photographs are both documents of an outside world, but also reflective of the inside worlds of the apartment and her own feelings of melancholy at the time they were made. Pensive feelings of solitude guided the making of the pictures. As Nathan muses, she was “detached and isolated like the people in an Edward Hopper painting.” That reference is near literal as in the photograph of a red façade that is inverted and sharpened by a large lens on a grill of her window.
In 1978, John Szarkowski, then Director of Photography at MOMA, curated a significant exhibition titled, Windows and Mirrors. The theoretically themes and underpinnings in that show parallel many of Nathan’s. He wrote then, as we can see now in this exhibition, that photography is “the pursuit of beauty: that formal integrity that pays homage to the dream of a meaningful life.” A life that is lived inside, but is inspired by the outside.