remembering brodsky

November 13 – December 18, 2004

Text by James Campbell

For those of us who were seduced by Joseph Brodsky’s inimitably eloquent language, Ewa Zebrowski’s exhibition of Venetian photographs in homage to the dead poet at Galerie Art Mûr offered a similar feast for the eye and the mind.

The show, “remembering brodsky,” had its inception when a friend lent Zebrowski Watermark, a book on Venice written by Brodsky, who made many visits to the fabled city of canals, usually in winter. Brodsky was a Nobel Prize-winning poet and author who was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1972 and, after arriving in the United States, once served as American Poet Laureate.

Zebrowski has said that Brodsky’s writing was a catalyst for exploring, in the medium of photography, her own reflections on memory and personal history. But she also wanted to capture in images what Brodsky captured in words. Anyone familiar with Brodsky’s poems can detect a real family resemblance between her images and his words—and, by extension, between their respective thought-worlds.

Zebrowski’s luminous images of the sinking city effortlessly convey something of its ineffable magic and melancholy. Water is thematic in both Brodsky’s book and Zebrowski’s images. (Venice is endlessly threatened by floods and has sunk nine inches in 100 years.) Water stakes a very palpable claim on both word and image.

Brodsky wrote out of his own solitariness a remarkable paean to the doomed city, dilating on matters both temporal and mortal. The images exhibited segue with the poet’s language in a remarkably intimate manner. Where Brodsky writes, “The boat’s slow progress through the night was like the passage of a coherent thought through the subconscious. On both sides, knee-deep in pitch-black water, stood the enormous carved chests of dark palazzi,” Zebrowski summons out of night and the unconscious striking, connective imagery.

She follows Brodsky’s footsteps over the wet cobblestones, meditating along with him as they wander (and never aimlessly) through the narrow streets in pursuit of some secret encoded in the canals, palace walls and squares of Venice. Zebrowski has left us with a palimpsest of images as haunting and unforgettable as Brodsky’s language. Simply put, it is no small achievement.