I was the only kid I knew with an “Aunt Ernie” but I never really thought twice about it – Aunt Ernie was Aunt Ernestine Ruben, one of my parents’ closest friends and our two families(one in Michigan, the other in New Jersey) had, and still have, a close bond. Aunt Ernie is also an accomplished photographer and I wish I could see an exhibit of her latest work entitled “Portraits of Sound” now on view at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Here are more details below from a NYTimes T magazine blog post. One of her nude photos from the mid-1980s hangs in my house here in Iowa.
- “ZERNA-1,” a piece from Ernestine Ruben’s “Portraits of Sound” project with the New York Philharmonic.
- “ALLEN-1,” from “Portraits of Sound.”
- Ernestine Ruben in her studio at Mana Contemporary art center. Vladimir Weinstein
In 1981, the curator of photography at Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, Jean-Claude Lemagny, discovered the American photographer Ernestine Ruben. Reviewing student portfolios, Lemagny was taken by a compilation of Ruben’s early, signature nudes. At the time, the artist was 49. “It was only later in life that I had the courage to do my own thing,” recalled the now 81-year-old Ruben from her Upper West side apartment. Dozens of stories below and across the street, her latest exhibit “Portraits of Sound” has just been installed at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, where it will be on view for the next two months. “You can see it’s easy to be inspired from up here,” she remarked of the sweeping view west from her living room window.
Ruben began her career shooting nudes, but she expanded the form by bringing her lens close to the flesh, morphing small sections of the body into sensual landscapes. Similarly, in “Portraits of Sound,” Ruben plays with the limits of portraiture. Following sessions with members of the New York City Philharmonic (in which, she said, she might crawl under a chair in pursuit of the right angle), Ruben manipulated the images in Photoshop to reflect the relationship between music and maker and the experience of performance: an image of the bassoon transforms into bundles of sticks to suggest the tone of wood; a triplicate of a double bass extends across space, communicating oversized sound and physical stature. (“He seemed to be everywhere,” Ruben remembered.) “They said, ‘that’s exactly how I feel about my music or my instrument,’” she recounted of some of the musicians’ reaction to her work.
Ruben’s parents were renowned art collectors, and she describes their trove of futurist art as among the largest outside of Italy. “I was filled with passion and energy, but frightened to have to compete with things like this,” she recalled, gesturing behind her to a cobalt and cream Picasso-designed textile that belonged to her mother. She finally got her start in 1978 when, by chance, a friend invited her to a photography class. After years of devoting herself to motherhood and teaching art, she felt the time was right. “I wanted to do something that was mine. I wanted to extend photography in as many directions as possible.” Today her images can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In her ninth decade, Ruben continues to extend the reach of her camera. She is creating photographic three-dimensional environments and sculpture in a new studio space at Mana Contemporary and, she said, the ideas keep pouring out of her. “I think it’s terribly important not just to reflect the world around you but to penetrate it,” she declared. At Lincoln Center, Ruben’s photographs reverberate with that vision.
“Portraits of Sound” is currently on view at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.