Summer Memories

Whether lounging by the pool, watching blue skies or listening to the roar of ocean waves, for some summer is a favourite season; one that they wish could live on forever. Yet, recent extreme weather events and soaring temperatures in Europe have shown it to be anything but, changing the way many experience the summer months. Summer Lovin’, the latest exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery, New York, showcases a selection of nostalgic memories associated with holidays gone by. Curated by Gallery Director Caroline Wall, the show brings together 14 artists including Cig Harvey (b. 1973), Joe Deal (1947-2010), Julie Blackmon (b. 1966) and Mike Mandel (b. 1950). Each takes a unique approach, some showing landscapes devoid of humans whilst others capture hordes of sun bathers, free-falling divers or drying swimsuits. Visitors can enjoy an eclectic collection of subtle sensuality and play beneath the sun.

One such photograph is Cig Harvey’s Claire in the Forsythia, Rockport, Maine (2010). Here, tall, sunshine-yellow forsythia grow towards the perfectly blue sky. The flowers cradle and conceal a small face in the bottom of the frame, which emerges from the profusion of yellow petals. The figure’s eyes are closed, as though taking in a scent that we, as viewers, will never get to experience. Flowers are of deep significance to Harvey’s work. The artist’s latest photobook, titled Blue Violet (2021), stemmed from a request from her friend who had been diagnosed with leukaemia. Day by day, the artist sent vibrant flower pictures from the Maine summertime to her ailing friend in Boston. She talks more about this dynamic in an interview with Kirk Mcelhearn for PopPhoto, stating: “I wanted to send things to her that were bursting full of life, but then I realised it was not just about her and I and our relationship, it was about trying to live more, trying to appreciate every day more, and spreading that joy to others.” For Harvey, the love of sunshine and natural beauty is what connects us as humans, and is not something to be take for granted.

Summer Lovin’ also features work by Julie Blackmon (b. 1966). In Flatboat (2022), from the series Homegrown, children gather around a platform in the centre of a picturesque lake. Balanced on a box, a girl stands tall in the centre of the frame and gazes up at the clear sky. In an interview with KCUR 89.3, Blackmon explains that her photograph was inspired by a piece from American painter George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), The Jolly Flatboatmen (1846). The resemblance is immediately noticeable. In the painting, a group of men watch a figure dance on a box in the middle of a near-identical platform, on a similar body of water. These comparisons reveal the careful staging that goes into making scenes that look effortless and carefree. As i-D’s Emma Russell describes, Blackmon’s photography only seems spontaneous. In reality, it is “meticulously planned, thought out and orchestrated”. Thin Mints is from the same series, showing a band of youngsters walk in single file across the road – reminiscent of The Beatles’ Abbey Road cover. In Stock Tank, five children swim inside a container usually used as a drinking place for cattle and horses. Cheeky, joyful yet bittersweet, these images present summer as a backdrop for growing up.

Other artists in the show are less concerned with human presence, reminding us that the passage of seasons occurs whether we notice or not. Michael Kenna (b. 1953) often photographs landscapes filled with man-made elements in black and white. In No Show, Blackpool, Lancashire, England (1983), rows of empty deckchairs occupy the foreground. Unlike the blue skies of Harvey and Blackmon, Kenna’s are cloudy and ominous. Another picture by O. Winston Link takes us back to the 1950s. NW1126 Hawksbill Creek Swimming Hole, Lurary, VA, August 9 (1956) presents people playing and splashing in the water below a passing steam train. Elsewhere, visitors may enjoy the beach with Joe Deal’s Laguna Beach, California (1978); play volleyball in John Mack’s Cancun, Quintana, Roo, Mexico, (2008) or spend a night at the carnival with Jeff Brouws’ Ice Cream Booth, Ventura, California (1988) and Magenta Midway (1990).

Holidays have inspired artists for centuries, from Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) to Summer of Something Special, an annual photobook started in 2019 by Something Special Studios, compiling the ways photographers from around the world interpret the season. For many, summer represents a much-needed break from worries and day-to-day commitments like school or work: a time to connect with loved ones or have new experiences. Yet, despite these joyful associations – where sunlight bathes everything in gold – the increasing heat has become a reminder of our pressing climate emergency. In Southern Europe, continuing heatwaves are forecasted to hit with devastating temperatures of up to 48 degrees Celsius. In Greece, wildfires blaze. Beneath a surface of fun and relaxation, this selection of photographs gives us a chance to pause and reflect on what we most love about our world. We’re encouraged to ask: how do we preserve these moments for future generations?

Robert Mann Gallery: Summer Lovin’ | 7 June – 18 August

Words: Diana Bestwish Tetteh

Image Credits:
1. CIG HARVEY. Claire in the Forsythia, Rockport, Maine, 2010 Archival pigment print.
2. JOE DEAL. Laguna Beach, California, from the series: Beach Cities, 1978 Vintage silver print.
3. JULIE BLACKMON. Flatboat, 2022 Archival pigment print.
4. MICHAEL KENNA. No Show, Blackpool, Lancashire, England, 1983 Toned Silver Print.
5. JULIE BLACKMON. Flag Cake, 2015 Archival pigment print.