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LEXICON: Photographer Phyllis Crowley Finds Language in Drawings on Water

Always on the cutting edge of her craft, photographer Phyllis Crowley explores language in water in LEXICON, her new exhibit at City Gallery, on view March 4 - March 26, with an Opening Reception on Saturday, March 4, 2pm - 5pm and an Artist Talk at 3:30 pm. Crowley will also be in the gallery on Sunday, March 5 and Saturday, March 25.


Influenced by an image of photographer Harry Callahan, Crowley sought to explore the trajectory of light on water. What she discovered was something very different from the expected. “I seemed to be reading an unknown language that consists of signs and symbols that evoke ancient glyphs or pictographs in caves or on stone tablets. These were drawings made by the sun on the water. They were true ‘light drawings,’ the name given to the very first photographs in the 19th century.”


The series featured in LEXICON was made by standing in various ponds in Cape Cod, and slowing the camera shutter to capture the silent voice of sunlight writing messages on the water. For Crowley, there are many variables in making the work: the quality of the sun, the movement of water, camera settings, depth of water, color and time of day. As photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot said, “it is a little bit of magic realized – of natural magic.”


Crowley has a distinct way of blending her understanding of photography with her innate sense of wanting it to do more.  In LEXICON, she explores the elements of visual language: letters, characters, pictographs, glyphs, drawings. “I see this as a language for a new generation.  Our world is now so divided that we, even in our own country, no longer speak the same language. We cannot talk to each other. Our ideas, values, belief in reason and fact can now only be heard by those who agree. This is an appropriate language for another generation. A language that can convey beauty and feeling, evoke memories of things known and unknown, a language that we can all share and understand with our hearts, but never be able to translate.”


A photographer from a very young age, Crowley is a well-known local artist with more than 40 years of professional and fine art experience. She taught photography at Norwalk Community College and the University of Bridgeport, and now teaches at Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven. She has exhibited across the country and has twice been awarded an Artist Fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.


LEXICON is free and open to the public, and runs March 4 - March 26, with an Opening Reception on Saturday, March 4, 2pm - 5pm and an Artist Talk at 3:30 pm. Crowley will also be in the gallery on Sunday, March 5 and Saturday, March 25. City Gallery is located at 994 State Street, New Haven, CT 06511. Gallery hours are Friday - Sunday, 12 - 4 pm, or by appointment. City Gallery follows New Haven City’s mask mandate policy. For further information please contact City Gallery,,

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Out of concern for the welfare of our community and staff, The Community Foundation office at 70 Audubon is closed to visitors until further notice; Foundation staff are available by phone and email during normal business hours Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. to conduct business. For up-to-date information about The Foundation’s response to COVID-19, please visit: To contact a staff member, view our staff directory.

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