On Books, Ragdale and Mary Ellen Bartley

I attended the opening of The Ragdale House this past weekend.
 It is a magical place where many artists have found the time and space to create works of art that have enriched our lives. The house,  designed as the summer home of Arts and Crafts architect Howard Van Doren Shaw, just underwent a $3 million renovation. I had the privilege of  touring the rooms where many authors have written award winning books. 
One of several Ragdale rooms where authors reside for the residency

It made me think about the importance of books in our lives.  Carl Sagan was able to articulate the nature of books by looking deeply into their essence.

“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called "leaves") imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.” 
― Carl Sagan

 Mary Ellen Bartley has studied books from a unique visual perspective.  Standing Open and Blue Books are two beautiful portfolios.  

All The More Real

A Road Divided
Sleeping by the Mississippi

Mary Ellen's artist statement for Standing Open:
"STANDING OPEN This is my fourth series of photographs looking at books. While shooting my stacks and rows of tightly closed paperback books I began seeing some of the standing books loosen up, allowing a view of the space between their pages. I was drawn into the unique interior space of the books. I began opening all kinds of books and placing them standing open around my space where sunlight might fall on them. Using the chance settling of the pages and a close up view, this quickly became a project of looking into my photography books in a new way, with my gaze falling into and out of the books and into and out of abstraction. This work interests me on many levels. First is the sheer beauty of the physical books and the unique formal discoveries of looking at them close up. Among the repeating formal motifs I’ve found are the stripes the pages create, the shadowy voids between pages that read like burns or stains, and the reflections the photos can make on the pages facing them. On another level I’m fascinated by conceptual ideas concerning appropriation and reproduction in a mechanical versus digital age that the work can’t help but throw into question. What is the unique aura or presence of a book? Finally what drives the work for me is the emotional connection I have to the books. I’m trying to evoke the sensuality and intimacy of reading and looking through books as well as the fleeting inspiration, little jolts of connection, found for readers in books they love."

 Blue Books
All Night Near the Water, 2010
Beyond Summer, 2010

Easy Hymns, 2010

Fear of Rain, 2010

 Mary Ellen was also included in the Critical Mass Photolucida's final 50 this year.