The Carleton College Art Collection is rich in photographs by Ralph Gibson. Over 300 works are gifts from Arthur D. Kowaloff ’68, a close friend of this distinguished New York photographer. 

Gibson’s black and white photographs, typically gelatin silver prints, showcase bold contrasts in light and dark and crisply detailed abstract, flat patterns. These photogravures, on the other hand, celebrate very subtle tonal transitions and suggest soft volumes. 

Ralph Gibson ranges across myriad subjects in his work. Early photographs had a distinctly Surrealist cast, playing on odd angles or puzzling juxtapositions. Gibson’s compositions tend to be highly formal, stressing pattern, contrasts of light and shade, and the act of framing. 

This set of nudes reveals a very classical side to Gibson’s oeuvre. The nude female form figures prominently in art history as subject for artistic experimentation. Here, the artist uses the camera to frame parts of the body and to orchestrate the play of light falling on flesh and disappearing into dark surrounding space.

Three of the four Gibson gravures read as formal compositional exercises. The fourth — with a dark-haired model’s face obscured by a towel — is more disturbing to this viewer. Is this picture Surrealist — allowing viewers an unexpected glimpse of an intense, otherworldly moment? Or is Gibson’s image merely contrived and embodying a heedless disregard for the female subject?