An exhibition and a book showcase this photographer’s fantastical and magical images

Untitled (Traditions Highway), 2019, Irina Rozovsky. (Courtesy of the artist and CPM Gallery, Baltimore)
Untitled (Traditions Highway), 2019, Irina Rozovsky. (Courtesy of the artist and CPM Gallery, Baltimore)

Things in life rarely happen in a linear fashion. I guess it would be nice, or at least more predictable. Scratch that — maybe it’s better this way, more surprise, more opportunities to grow and learn. See, my mind is wandering to Emily Dickinson right now:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with photography. Well, let me tell you!

Last year was a rough one. I had some medical issues that needed to be dealt with and ended up in surgery and then away from my job and in recovery for three months. During this time, people reached out with work they wanted me to see. Among that work were several books that ended up in a pile or on my bookshelf. I’m still discovering them now, especially when the urge to clean or organize the apartment hits me.

During one of those times, I noticed a shrink-wrapped book that seemed familiar. It turned out to be Irina Rozovsky’s “In Plain Air” (MACK, 2021). I was not familiar with her work, but then I noticed it had been on all kinds of top photography book lists and kept popping up on social media accounts I follow. So I unwrapped it and began looking.

To my great delight, “In Plain Air” turned out to be a series of beautifully meditative photos on life pulsating through one of my absolute favorite places on Earth — Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Many years ago, my wife and I lived within walking distance of the park, and we both adored going there to meander and watch kids playing baseball, children learning how to ride bikes with their parents’ help, people gathering in big groups to barbecue. It’s a really special place.

Rozovsky really captures all of that in her book, and with a touch of the magical, too. There’s often a soft, glowing light illuminating the people in the book, whether they are fishing, feeding the swans or lounging in a tree. “In Plain Air” captures some of Prospect Park’s most alluring qualities — its almost medicinal effect as a much-needed respite in a city teeming with life at all hours.

Now, here’s where life’s circuitousness comes in more sharply. It was a somewhat unlikely chain of events that fed my interest in her work and is the reason I’m writing about it right now.

It all started with a glance at my bookshelf. But then it radiated out to include dreams of moving to Baltimore, taking the train there, discovering a fabulous new photography bookstore (Baltimore Photo Space) where I learned of a new gallery space (CPM). As it turned out, Rozovsky had recently been at the bookstore signing copies of “In Plain Air” while she was in town for a show about a different body of work at — where else? — that new gallery space.

Let’s get back to the winding path. On Monday, I headed up to CPM to check out Rozovsky’s show. Interestingly enough, this show is of completely different work than what comprises “In Plain Air.” But check this out: Much of the work in the show, called “Traditions Highway,” was made concurrently with the work in “In Plain Air.” It contains sixteen photographs accompanied by a selection of vernacular landscape paiintings and a long scrolling text piece made when she was travelling on Route 15, a Georgia state road known as Traditions Highway.

Rozovsky made the work that is at CPM while on various road trips in the area around Athens, Ga., where she now lives. And while it is of completely different subject matter than her book, it still emanates a magical quality. There’s that same effervescent quality of light — of a chair sitting askance in mottled waves of light, or of what looks like the light from a flash brushing against a man bent over backward in a yoga pose, surrounded by trees. The whole show is a balm, surrounding you in a kind of fairy tale.

There are other similarities, too. “In Plain Air" has photos of a dog and people fishing in the body of water in Prospect Park. I was immediately struck by the similarity of a person standing on the edge of another body of water in “Traditions Highway.” Both photos could have been taken in the same place, or at least in close proximity.

But there are telling differences, most notably the muddy water in the latter image. That reminded me of the time (oh boy, another slanting path) I spent as an undergrad in — can you believe it? — Georgia. The more I write about all of these confluences, the more the show and the book begin to resemble real life.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the show at CPM is a real delight. And that’s not just because of the photographs. The space at the gallery is really wonderful and inviting. And if you’re lucky, as I was, you might just get to interact with Vlad Smolkin, the owner, who is a very warm and engaging host. I would say the likelihood of that is pretty good since you’ll need to reach out to CPM to set up an appointment to see Rozovsky’s work.

What’s the moral of all of this? I don’t know — maybe it’s that sometimes when you follow the rabbit on a winding path, you eventually end up in a clearing, or two, that opens up a whole new world of experiences, learning and growth.

You can find out more about “In Plain Air” (now in its second edition) and buy it here. And you can find out more about CPM (and set up an appointment via the contact tab to check out “Traditions Highway”) here. Finally, you can see more of Rozovsky’s work on her website, here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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