You might have to dangle your tie in the soup or your scarf in the dessert to get a good look at the photographs of Marjorie Gillette Wolfe, a long-time practitioner of the art of light. If you must offer polite excuses to lean over other diners at Atticus, it’s well worth the awkwardness to take in Wolfe‘s six serene and disturbingly powerful large photographs of water, in its forms of beauty and power, that adorn the southern interior wall of the Chapel Street eatery.
The show, called “The Whole Wide World,” is at the Atticus Book Store Cafe until Nov. 29.
“Colliding worlds” is the way Danish visitor Rikke Rohde (pictured with her son William Dinitzen) described the contrast between the cozy people-and-food-filled atmosphere of Atticus and the worlds depicted in Wolfe’s large-size rectangular views of a frozen New Haven harbor, a snow encrusted garage on a lonely hummock of property, or a beach of dunes.
In all these settings the water seems to be in charge, and people are present, if at all, only by their traces.
All the compositions are large elongated rectangles, about 46 by 17 inches, some of which were framed in plexiglass without borders in a previous show Wolfe had at the Kehler Liddell Gallery in Westville.
These very dimensions remind you, as do the various forms of the H2O, that what’s going on in these pictures — be it the reconquest of the land by the sea or a winter that never ends or the rising water heading for a metropolis precariously balanced on a watery edge — indeed just keeps going on, whether we like it or not, beyond the picture frame.
That is, in this reality we inhabit, lapping at our feet.
When humans appear, as in “Polar Circle,” they are not adapting to or inhabiting the scene, but form a kind of geometric adornment.
In “Rachel Carson” we see a city that could be New York or Miami or anywhere. It’s just a profile of skyscrapers in the fog, and as a viewer there’s a relief that you don’t live there — although maybe you really do, because the water that fills up two-thirds of the picture is heading that way.
Likewise in “Pond and Sea” — beneath which our Danish visitors were enjoying themselves and Wolfe’s pictures as they ate a chocolate dessert — there is only a tiny squiggle of a red-clad human figure in the bottom corner of the frame.
“This coffee shop is like nothing that’s in the pictures,” said Rohde; that contrast is precisely what pleased her.
She and her ninth-grade son, who had stopped by Yale to check out its architecture programs, speculated that perhaps one of the reasons they liked Wolfe’s photographs is because they, the visitors, came from a place where there’s lots of water.
Looking at the photographs, William said, “It does look like Denmark.”
In one sense, the photographs’ purpose is not to preach or tell a story, but simply to spread across the surfaces of Wolfe’s picture plane in their own tides of light and shadow. Yet in the era of rising seas, global warming, and municipal defense against the next tsunami, one day these bracing, cautionary views of water’s powers and scope may offer up a touch of the nostalgic, of that time back when, through Wolfe’s eyes, we watched it, lethal and beautiful, inexorably coming our way.