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Daylight Books : Sarah Kaufman : Devil’s Pool


Philadelphia photographer Sarah Kaufman loves the local Wissahickon Park, and this affection is reflected throughout the photographs representing seven years of documenting fellow residents engaging with a park swimming hole, Devil’s Pool.

The medium format color photographs reveal people of all ages, demographics, and body types intersecting with nature. Whether alone or in a group, they appear at ease, relaxed, and engaged with themselves and the landscape. She catches their gestures, expressions, quiet contemplative moments sitting among the trees, and reckless joyful abandon flinging themselves from rocks.

She writes, “People from all over are drawn to this urban swimming hole as a place to play and revel in physicality and nature. The images depict moments of coherence among our bodies and the world around us.”

This statement takes on a different resonance at this time in history, as the globe continues to navigate the physical and psychological effects of Covid. Photography critic and curator Andy Grundberg wrote the book’s foreword, and references this, as well. In discussing Kaufman’s photos he reflects,

“One’s body is temporarily unmoored, unhinged from gravity and the weight of everyday life. It is at root the same performance, no matter the actor. This may be why the divers and swimmers and waders in these pictures seem so familiar. And why these pictures, with their fabulous sense of timing, their uncanny light and shadows, their inclusiveness, and their hidden revelations for those who look closely, echo across the chasms that we have built for ourselves. For those of us feeling wounded by recent events, like me, they are a salve.”

The images also address and emphasize the need for greenspaces and community gathering in cities where urban growth boundaries continue to expand in development. The park’s name and meaning derive from the Leni Lanape people, and Devil’s Pool was “believed to be a meeting place of good and evil, an aperture to another world,” Grundberg shares. Kaufman’s square format choice is particularly effective at showcasing the natural beauty of this region, highlighting arcing light and pieces of sky through the tree branches, rock faces leading down to the pond, majestic at times to the point where the viewer can easily forget this public park is right at the edge of the urban landscape.

Of interest to Kaufman, as well, is the tradition in art history of honoring the human body, and its representation in bathing. She writes, “This work considers the reflexivity in viewing imagery of people fully taken by their physical and psychological surroundings.” This engagement with the physical world and her eye for capturing the unselfconscious moments within this space are a signature to not only her composition choices, but also to her ability to weave together these multiple narratives of people and place.

Resilient seems the word most suited to Philadelphians, and that is what shines through most clearly to me in this collection of Sarah Kaufman’s photographs of city dwellers enjoying themselves at a local swimming spot known as Devil’s Pool, in a stream that feeds into the Wissahickon Creek. These pictures are remarkable for their lack of pretense and for their inclusion of human behaviors that are easily recognizable but somehow, here, elevated to seem paradigmatic.” —Andy Grundberg, from his foreword.

About the Artist:
Sarah Kaufman was born in Philadelphia and is an exhibiting artist with work shown at Saint Joseph’s University, Haverford College, and many more. Her photographic and curatorial projects have been reviewed in ARTnews and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others. Work from this ongoing project, Devil’s Pool, was recently acquired by the Pennsylvania Convention Center for permanent exhibition. Kaufman is Assistant Professor at Ursinus College.

About the Contributor:
Andy Grundberg is an art critic and curator who holds the position of Professor Emeritus, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University. He was the photography critic of the New York Times, and later served as the director of the Ansel Adams Center for Photography, and chair of the photography department and dean of the Corcoran College of Art and Design.

Book Details:
Sarah Kaufman : Devil’s Pool
Foreword by Andy Grundberg
Published by Daylight Books
Uncoated Paper, 10 x 10 in / 116 pages / 60 Color
ISBN 9781954119000
List Price: $45.00

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