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Monday, Jan. 31, 2011

Make a Voyage to Grohmann Museum’s ‘Lake Boats’

Art Review

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Two contemporary artists photograph man in the shadows of mammoth machines in the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) Grohmann Museum exhibition “Lake Boats: The Photography of Jim Brozek and Christopher Winters” (through April 3). Brozek and Winters frame the immensity of Great Lakes sailing vessels next to man’s minute physical stature without diminishing the poignant human element.

Brozek’s black-and-white prints capture striking portraits of men at work during the winter months when Lake Michigan freighters require refurbishing (the images are actual work that Brozek encountered and documented from the years 1979-1985). Cold Blow depicts a man standing in a huge round hole from a ship’s hull with waves crashing against steel. In Sunlight,a solitary man stands on a catwalk held high by pulleys in the freighter’s bowels as a stream of sunlight illuminates the scratched iron.

The powerful, stark, poetic images evoke the sweat and grime, and inherent pride, of these dedicated men. The men, wearing metal helmets, hooded sweatshirts and jackets and gloves covering calloused hands, are often unknown to those who benefit from the freighters’ bounty.

Winters complements Brozek’s up-close-and-personal photos with color archival prints focusing on unusual perspectives from onboard steamer ships. The Milwaukee Discovery World photographer and shipwreck diver documents these excursions with a seafarer’s aesthetics.

In Winters’ delicate Summer Squall, Downbound, Port Huron, a print with a nebulous emerald green sky, white lightning streaks through darkening clouds. In Nozzle Wheels, the image centers on bright color, as fire-red spokes on engine handles overlap in circular patterns, displaying a stark contrast to the enameled gray machine. Does Winters project danger, power or pure mechanical design in his print?

The 40-plus images highlight Milwaukee’s shipping history and the men who have made it possible. The exhibition directs viewers to the unsung labor necessary for our contemporary lifestyles. The exhibit is a testament to the idea that art appears in the commonplace, amid moments often taken for granted.
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