Ian Lewandowski - The Ice Palace is Gone

The Ice Palace is Gone - Ian Lewandowski,
2021, Magic Hour Press

Let’s get the boring bit out of the way first. The Ice Palace is Gone is a remarkable first
monograph, both from Lewandowski and Magic Hour Press. The printing is excellent and
does a great job of evoking the quality of Lewandowski’s large format transparencies, and
the supple form of the book; (reminiscent of Waffenruhe) is pleasingly welcoming. The type
is nostalgic yet timeless, the slight warmth to the page softens but doesn’t diffuse.

Last week I watched Ian talk about his photographing of people wearing scrubs, a recurring
theme in this monograph, after his experience with cancer and more relevantly the systems
of care he was exposed to. The Ice Palace is Gone explores networks of care and community
in queer spaces, as opposed to medical ones.

The opening image of the book primes us with this idea immediately, a portrait of someone
in scrubs reaching out towards the camera (Nurse II, 2018), and Lewandowski, their finger
brushing the edge of the frame, their palm brushing the same plane of focus as their face.

The portraits that follow are startlingly direct, the challenging gazes of the subjects feel as if
they’re interrogating our intentions in penetrating the spaces that follow. Once we pass
further into the book the mood changes, there’s more warmth, more softness. The ease that
the sitters feel before Lewandowski’s imposing view camera is palpable, despite the often
awkward or vulnerable positions we find them in. This dynamic seems to go both ways, as
Lewandowski yields the control offered by the camera as he often hands off the shutter
release to the sitter, or appears before the lens himself.

There’s a subtle demonstration of how photo-literate Lewandowski is, the text compiled of
so many print outs across a window (Community Board XVII, 2019) echoes Frank’s later
photo-text work, the pair of portraits of the Quartet (Quartet II, 2019; Quartet III, 2019)
seem to make direct reference to Avedon’s portrait’s of Warhol and Co at the factory,
incidentally placing Lewandowski within a lineage of NY portraitists he meshes with well.

Despite how constructed many of these portraits are they feel remarkably honest, none of
the sitters are attempting to hide anything from the lens, perhaps because of how at ease
they feel with Lewandowski, but perhaps this speaks to the kind of people that
Lewandowski has chosen to surround himself. This radical honesty of being and being
amongst others is particularly reminiscent of Hujar’s portraits. The recurrence of tattoos on

the skin of Lewandowski’s sitters brings up the assertion of control over ones own form
through image, an idea which is held in stark relief against the sensation of helplessness that
comes with the appearance of these figures in states of undress or medical garb.

In the portrait of Morell, immediately followed by Anthony and Seneca, we see both sitters
wearing a pair of identical blue shorts, whilst I’m sure this is simply a coincidence that’s
been highlighted in the sequencing it conjures such a wonderful feeling of community
between the people Lewandowski chooses to photograph. It’s in these shared details, the
jewellery or glasses; the clothing and styling, that this wildly varied group is knitted
together. The blue of these shorts also harmonises with the refrain of scrubs that form the
backbone of the work. The tenderness with which these medical professionals are
photographed leaves us with the feeling that Lewandowski has achieved, perhaps just for
the fraction of a second that the shutter was open, a bridging of both of these structures of

This review was also published on Vessel Editions.

Text © Sean Murgatroyd Images © Ian Lewandowski 

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