Arlene Distler Reviews “Gowanus Wild”

A review of our February 2014 exhibition “Gowanus Wild” – written by Arlene Distler:

“After viewing Miska Draskoczy’s evocative and handsome photographs at Vermont Center for Photography, what lingers is stillness. But a stillness with a disquieting edge. A stillness that is not silent, but which hums and whirs with a heartbeat of some exotic beast of the netherworld.

The photographs, which range in size from 12×12 to 30×30, were taken at the Gowanus Canal, an infamously polluted area at the western fringe of Brooklyn.

The part of Brooklyn that is known for its boutiques, hip watering holes, cafes and ethnic restaurants is only blocks away from Gowanus. Draskoczy is clearly fascinated by Brooklyn’s “underbelly,” perhaps all the more intriguing for its proximity to these ultra-civilized neighborhoods of New York.

In the images of Gowanus Wild, incongruous elements––nature and the industrial–– have achieved a kind of detente. Nature is not threatened by or encroached upon by industrial dumps, railroad trestles or looming silos, but have made a holy––or unholy––alliance. In “Spring Tangle” tree roots and vines form a jumble with broken pavement stone and bricks while the blossoms of a flowering tree reach into a sky that’s lit by the glare of distant fluorescent lights. In “Sailboat,” a photograph that I would like to have seen in the large format Draskoczy reserves for his most sweeping and piquant images, a small sailboat rests at the end of a canal inlet — a motif that’s almost a cliche of serenity, except that the water the boat is on is a reddish brown, a garbage dump sits along one side of the canal and two industrial silos loom in the distance.

“Egret” (30 x 30) is the signature image of the show and it is a masterful one. In the distance is a tall structure––perhaps a parking garage, transfer station, or even a mall. Bright white lights march across the top of the picture and reflect in the dark water. At the center an egret sits on a gracefully arcing branch of a leafy tree. The arc of the egret’s neck echoes the tree branch––both form a sharp contrast to, but also frame, the undefined yet imposing background structures, softened slightly by an evening mist.

Draskoczy is a wonderful colorist with a real appreciation for the bizarre effect that artificial light at night can have on objects. Color is saturated, mostly blues and greens countered with red or orange. In “Street Jungle” the lights cast strong indigo shadows on wall and sidewalk while lending an ochre-orange tone overall; in “Winter Tug” a pale orange sky and shore lights contrast with pale blue snow and the blue-white of the tug. Thin branches shoot through the top third of the photograph like a flash of lightning in reverse.

Many of the smaller format photographs are close-ups of objects that can be seen far-off in the larger photos: a drain spout in a stained brick wall, a sunflower nestled against an orange road barrier, a red vine climbing along a white wall. These photographs, while less narratively compelling than the larger work, have a strong and pleasing graphic quality.

Miska’s photographs go beyond the cliche of the artist’s ability to find beauty in the ugly. They evince an open-hearted Whitman-esque desire to embrace the whole, complex amalgam of life in this particular corner of the globe.

I was not surprised to read that this photographer is also a film maker. Draskoczy’s pictures make you want to know more––what is the story behind these hallucinatory images?––while still being satisfying in a purely visual way.”

-Arlene Distler  (online at

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