Joy Drury Cox & Ben Alper: Hard Places
October 5 - November 10, 2018
The title of this exhibition, Hard Places, is at once a slightly tongue-in-cheek nod to the expression "between a rock and a hard place," but also a more literal affirmation of the solidity of the surfaces photographed during travels to the Pacific Northwest. The husband-and-wife artists, Joy Drury Cox and Ben Alper, acknowledge that in a very overt way, the title describes the challenges of photographing landscapes of great beauty and grandeur within the limitations of a camera’s singular lens. With a long history of majestic landscape paintings and photographs in mind, the artists also suggest that shifting perspectives and present-day concerns about environmental changes are needed to reframe seemingly sublime wildernesses. The photographs on display in Ejecta Projects simultaneously resist and respond to these pictorial precedents. While some photographs offer glimpses onto expansive vistas of woods, wildflowers, and the sea, other spaces, such as densely woven tree roots, rough rock faces, and dizzying plains of gravel, appear flattened, constrained, and abstracted.
The couple traveled together, but took photographs independently. Although Alper and Cox retain his/her individual aesthetic, they nonetheless share an overlapping and compatible vision. Each artist is attentive to both surface details and larger topographies; the sharp focus in almost all of the photographs in this exhibition reveals a similar fascination with the crisp light and atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps in contrast to the humid haze often hanging over their hometowns on the East Coast. And, when Alper and Cox include figures in their compositions, both artists address the longer history of landscapes in art as well as present-day concerns about the impact of tourism and land use. For instance, Alper’s Silhouette, Bandon, Oregon alludes to early nineteenth-century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s inclusion of small figures to convey the sublimity of a landscape. In both Alper’s photograph as well as in Cox’s Wanderers near the Falls, Hoh Rain Forest, WA, the artist does not picture what the figure sees. The figures are not stand-ins for viewer’s own place within the landscape, and they also don’t simply establish a sense of scale. Instead, Cox and Alper thematize a thwarted desire to capture the embodied entirety of a sublime landscape.
Ben Alper earned a BFA in Photography in 2009 from the Massachusetts College of Art & Design and an MFA in Studio Art in 2014 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work has been exhibited and published throughout the United States and internationally. Since 2015, he has published 5 artist books, the latest a collaborative project co-authored with his partner Joy Drury Cox. Additionally, Ben is the co-founder and co-facilitator of A New Nothing, an online project space dedicated to hosting visual conversations between artists. In the almost four years of its existence, the site has aggregated more than 100 discrete exchanges between artists from around the world. He currently lives and works in Durham, NC, where he divides his time between running a digital printing business, generating new work, making collaborative music playlists with friends, buying too many books and spending as much time as possible with his partner Joy and his dog Sophie.
Joy Drury Cox is an artist and educator living in Durham, NC. She was born and raised in Atlanta, GA and graduated with a B.A. in English from Emory University. Halfway through college, she discovered a love for photography that ultimately shifted the course of her life. She went on to earn an M.F.A. from the School of Art and Art History at the University of Florida. She has exhibited nationally and internationally since 2003. She is the author of three artist books, and has most recently co-authored a photography book with her partner, Ben Alper. Today she works in a variety of media including drawing, collage, textiles and photography. Joy is currently a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Art Department at UNC Chapel Hill.