Written review by
Associate Curator, International Center of Photography
Margaret Vroom Margaret’s portfolio is a very good one, albeit quite unequal: it seems to me that she is still looking for her point of focus, and overall style. But I love the fact that she is clearly taking a lot of pleasure in the act of photographing, and that she has a lot of respect for her subject matters. Some images are really excellent.
The second series is very strong and accomplished, but series 1 and series 3 are less powerful. As much as black and white works well for series 2, color worked better for series 3, as I see on Margaret’s website that these were shot in color originally. I think it doesn’t serve the subjects or the light well, to convert them to black and white. I would have kept everything in color for those photographs. It is actually interesting to see that Margaret is as good in black and white as in color, and I would encourage her to continue working in both. Her series 2 is extremely good, reminiscent of Gilles Peress’ work, somehow. These images are melancholy, cold, and serious, much deeper than the first series, which doesn’t touch me, apart from the very first image whose composition I like a lot – like a movie screen. In terms of composition, I think some images are more successful than others: my favorite are series 1 image 1, series 2 image 1, an excellent and daunting image, my favorite overall, stunning and telling.
The second image in that series is also extremely powerful. There is a sense of hardship in those images, perhaps more interesting to Margaret. She seems emotionally and physically closer to the characters in the second series.
The fourth image is also very good, composition wise, very intriguing and original, with those vertical arms and horizontal and oblique panes. Images 5 of this series is a little weaker - it could have been good but the frame is too low: too much vacuum in the upper part, which makes it unbalanced. I do see what the intention was. Sometimes it needs to be more spontaneous. I also feel like maybe that was another color photograph turned into black and white? The photograph is very flat. Image 6 is ambiguous: the composition is not the best, and there is so much going on, the smoke, the balloon, the billboard, the many characters, but somehow the confusion makes it is an interesting image. It almost looks like a war zone…
In fact, I think Margaret’s strongest photographs are those that are almost like war photographs, or political, social, which is why I am particularly drawn to series 2: because the photographs looks like Northern Ireland or the desolated, post-industrial North of England.
In series 3 also, one can feel the interest that Margaret has in the social issues of the places she visits. As I said, I wish series 3 had remained in color, but even so, I appreciate Margaret’s relationship to her subjects: she catches them with the right balance of distance- so that they don’t seem too self-conscious – and enough proximity – so that we feel engaged. The first image in this series is actually quite good, but the angle is not ideal – there is not enough action on the left of the image, too much action on the right. The second image is good but too flat, and again works much better in color: the color gives a rhythm to the action that gets completely lost in black and white.
The third image is interesting - the reflection in the window reminds me of Cartier-Bresson’s self-portrait in MoMA’s window - but the composition is a little off, too much happening at the bottom, and not enough at the top. But it might be my favorite of the series. Image 4 loses its strength in black and white. Image 7 is quite strong, I love the movement and the light and shadows, but the window at the top of the frame damages the balance and the softness of the movement: the image could have been better if the lens had been focusing more on the bottom than on the top.
I enjoyed discovering Margaret’s visual world. For the future, I would encourage her to work on her color photography, as I feel that I missed a very interesting part of it.