Sally Gall’s Subterranea by Bernard Yenelouis

Sally Gall’s photographs explore below-ground spaces, looking not for the tourist sites, terrorist hideaways, or Wonderland worlds we might expect of caves and tunnels, but finding beauty in the juxtaposition of light and stone.

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 84 Summer 2003
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Sally Gall, Oasis, 1999, black-and-white photograph.

Landscape does not name itself.—Simon Schama

Sally Gall’s new book, Subterranea, is a series of photographs of cave openings, grottoes, and tunnels. In contradistinction to traditions of American landscape photography, which emphasize the grandiose and the public (Niagara Falls, Yosemite, Yellowstone), Gall presents landscape as no less marvelous but on an intimate scale. Her photographs are distinguished by an atmospheric interplay between light and dark that revels in an aestheticism of privacy, of turning away from the outer world.

Gall’s images are manipulated in the printing: judicious diffusions minimize detail and invoke instead a pictorialist dream world. The scenes in Subterranea are found where daylight intersects with openings in the earth’s crust. This “going underground” reiterates the privileging of the subjective to which the surface of the prints allude. The phenomenological world of elemental nature is there, blunt in its indifference, yet alluring. Nooks and crannies offer escape as well as concealment. Below ground, a coherent sense of scale disappears. The images oscillate between the darkness of the earth’s core and the illumination of the sun. Amid the hard rock underneath, among roots and pools of water, there are occasional figures, vague and featureless, floating in the water, suspended in an infinity of stone and solitude.

The lore of caves, of the underground, has remarkable diversity, whether it be Persephone, Plato, Alice in Wonderland, or the Taliban, as do the extensive tourist attractions attendant on such geological phenomena. The images in Subterranea, however, with their acute consciousness of their existence as mediated images, construct no narrative other than the experiential one of elements: air, stone, water, light.


Subterranea is just out from Umbrage Editions.

Portfolio by Jungjin Lee
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From Unnamed Road, 2010–15, a series of photographs taken in Israel and Palestine.

Portfolio by Asger Carlsen
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Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe by Kalia Brooks
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“We have to tell the truth in the image.”

Originally published in

BOMB 84, Summer 2003

Featuring interviews with Marina Abramovic and Laurie Anderson, Paul McCarthy, Christian Marclay and Ben Neill, Jesse Reiser & Nanako Umemoto and Andrew Benjamin, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Adam Fuss, Aryeh Lev Stollman, Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulciniby and Bette Gordon, and Elliott Sharp.

Read the issue
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