Sarah Kaufman Honorably Mentioned

Apr 2–16, 2020
Online Exhibition

After weeks of social distancing and self quarantining, Sarah Kaufman’s images of Devil’s Pool, a swimming hole in Northwest Philadelphia, provoke pangs for the particular warmth of sun on skin, and the unabashed joy of spending a summer afternoon swimming with friends. Legally, swimming in Devil’s Pool is not allowed, and the local government warns visitors of pollution in the water, and past fatal accidents. Yet, it continues to be a popular swimming spot. In Kaufman's words, "the people who come to Devil's Pool include families and people of all ages from across the city, although the majority of folks are definitely younger. People from neighborhoods without a lot of greenspace make up a huge part of the crowd. Many come from neighborhoods within Philly that are relatively far from the Wissahickon Park." There is also the name—Devil’s Pool—that just feels a little lawless, a little reckless, and promises a really good time. Kaufman’s camera doesn’t stray far away from the pool. Instead, she shoots from above, watching divers flip themselves off cliffs into cannonball splashes, or she positions herself within the water and looks up, capturing people perched like birds, their swimsuits making bright spots along the craggy rocks. In tightening her perimeter to just this swimming hole and the small stretches of land around it, Kaufman affirms this place as a kind of well-worn community.

A large part of this project stems from Kaufman’s ongoing interest in the idea of bathing within the scope of art history, and as she says, “the potential for a pictorial space where the body could be represented and celebrated openly.” Thomas Eakins’ famous painting, The Swimming Hole, also painted in Philadelphia, comes to mind here as one example. Despite the large gap in time between these two works, (Eakins’ painting was completed between 1884 and 1885), these two visual works both speak to an interest in subjects who are fully absorbed by their physical and psychological surroundings.

The swimmers and sunbathers Kaufman captures in Devil’s Pool barely seem to acknowledge the artist’s presence in their midst at all. While most of her photographs revel in the golden light and sun dappled water of late afternoon, a few of Kaufman’s images are taken at night. These nocturnal images use artificial lighting to assist in creating the image, but Kaufman blends them in with the rest of the work in a manner that prompts viewers to see them with a different kind of drama. This idea of artificiality is echoed in the location of Devil’s Pool, as the swimming hole exists in a strange kind of Eden, lurking along on the fringes of the suburban infrastructure of Philadelphia.

Kaufman’s project is a welcome respite to viewers right now for many reasons, as we remain trapped inside, slowly waiting for springtime, for the global health crisis to cease, and for some semblance of normality to return to our lives. Through photographing this one location, over a long duration of time, Kaufman acquaints us with her subjects and her location intimately, emphasizing a kind of physical vulnerability that is especially heightened for many people right now. Watching twentysomethings dive brazenly into the pool, or teenagers slouch their dripping bodies together along the cliffs feels refreshing to connect with, and reminds us all of the unencumbered feeling of your toes leaving the rock, your arms stretching outward, and your friends cheering you on as you wait to touch down into the cool water below.

Sarah Kaufman was selected for the Honorably Mentioned series by Dan Leers, Curator of Photography at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Honorably Mentioned highlights the work of artists chosen as Honorable Mentions for Fellowship 20. Fellowship is Silver Eye's international juried photography competition. For nineteen years this competition has recognized both rising talent and established photographers from all corners of the globe, and from the state of Pennsylvania.

Participating Artist

  1. Sarah Kaufman (b. Philadelphia, PA) received a BA from Haverford College and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Solo exhibitions of her photography include Saint Joseph’s University, Haverford College, Bowdoin College, Soho Photo and Porter Contemporary galleries in New York, and she has participated in group exhibitions nationwide. Kaufman’s photographic and curatorial projects have been reviewed in ARTnews Magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Work from her ongoing project, Devil’s Pool, was recently acquired by the Pennsylvania Convention Center for permanent exhibition. She is an Assistant Professor in Art at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania where she teaches all levels of Photography and cross‐media Studio Practices. Kaufman lives and works in Philadelphia.

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