Photographer Michael J. Elderman has been photographing Riverside's Historic Fox Theater since March 2005. Now, more than 10,000 photos later, Elderman displays the fruits of his labor in this exhibition and the accompanying book for Riverside's Fox Theater: An Intimate Portrait.
Textured abstraction, geometric grids, and cast shadows revel in texture, light, line and pattern. Some of the photos depict recognizable objects, but many others are abstracted segments – a gold-leaf footprint, a segment of a fallen exterior wall, or a geometric light shape on an unfinished interior wall.
Elderman's body of work is comprised of documentary photography showing the theater's restoration as part of the City of Riverside's Renaissance program. However, rather than concentrating on wide views showing large sections of the building, Elderman has focused on revealing intimate sub-sections of the Fox. Recently, Elderman exhibited photos from his Fox studies at La Sierra University's Brandstater Gallery. Where the work at the Brandstater emphasized the transformation and recreation of the grand but deteriorated theater and the making of a photo book, the exhibition here at RAM focuses on artistic composition for its own sake.
"This exhibit is about art for its own sake, and the photographs are often a closer view of parts of the bigger picture seen in the La Sierra exhibit," states Elderman. “I mean that in the more specifically documentary photographs shown at LSU, I was consciously thinking about the process of documentation. But in the photographs here at RAM, I was led more or less intuitively to subject matter that was out of context, a part of a greater whole. My book designer, Michiko Toki, probably recognized this difference before I even did, because I was working intently and very intuitively, not articulating things that I now can, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. As an example, I include here both the gold-leaf footprint on a dusty floor and the footprint, probably of concrete dust, across the red velvet bench which sits in front of a window removed from the tower room of the theater. I see these as whimsical elements when they are placed together (as they are here), and as Michi probably did when she used a different footprint photo in the final pages of my book.”
Both a documentation of a moment in time, as well as a stand-in for all building construction and reconstruction everywhere, the photos seem almost timeless. For the artist, the photos present the literal and figurative parts of the process of restoring any building. Yet it is ultimately the collective photographs of the Fox that yield the full portrait.