Indian Ladder: A Lyric Journey

Fifteen miles to the west of Albany, New York, rises a wall of rock nearly 1,100 feet in height, known as the Helderberg Escarpment. It is a prominent geological feature that marks the landscape and defines the northern limits of the Helderberg Mountains, the third most significant mountain chain in New York State. According to local lore, Native Americans constructed a ladder at the escarpment in order to traverse the steep rock wall. The legendary ladder has become ingrained in the identity of the place, to the point that “Indian Ladder” is synonymous with Helderberg Escarpment. In 1914, land along the ridge was donated to the State of New York and dedicated as the John Boyd Thacher State Park in honor of Albany’s former mayor, historian, and foresighted conservationist.

From 2001-2007 John Yang photographed in amazing detail the beauty of the landscape around Thacher Park, especially along Indian Ladder Trail. Yang’s photographs are reminiscent of works by the great nineteenth-century landscape photographers Carleton E. Watkins and William Henry Jackson. His seductive prints lead the viewer on a visual hike along Indian Ladder Trail, opening the eyes to expansive scenery at one moment and drawing one inward at the next, into dark and mysterious chambers of layered rock. A quiet timelessness pervades his scenes. Yang’s photographic journey along Indian Ladder Trail is a lyric one, filled with a sense of self-discovery.

Published by Albany Institute of History and Art
Paperback, 80 pages, 10" x 10", ISBN 978-0-939072-16-3

Mount Zion: Sepulchral Portraits

Mount Zion, built in 1893, is an Orthodox Jewish cemetery located in Queens, New York, sandwiched between a New York City Sanitation plant and the Long Island Expressway. “Sepulchral portraits” refer to miniature photographs once placed on many of Mount Zion’s tombstones, a custom brought over by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. These images — often heavily retouched — were burned into porcelain or metal tablets, then glazed. The process was, at the time, advertised as permanent; but the ravages of the
elements, pollution, and vandals have transformed these portraits into something else altogether.

What remains of them — and what has become of them — is what John Yang set about to portray in
his own series of photographs, taken between 1994 and 1998. The result is a meditation on memory, mortality, the urban landscape, and the photographic process itself. "Mount Zion: Sepulchral Portraits" is a book that exists at the intersection of portraiture, Judaica, New York City studies, graveyard art, and documentary photography.

Published and distributed by D.A.P.
Hardcover, 112 pages, 7" x 10", ISBN 1-891024-23-X

"The book itself is an orchestrated beauty. What could have been presented as simple black and white reproductions have been wisely preserved in a mute but saturated color, informed with ambers, periwinkle blues and faint purples that act on an almost unconscious eye. As the portraits are also photographs of photographs, Mount Zion acts as meditation on photography itself, the role we ascribe to it, the beauty it is capable of, and the failings that dress this art form in all its guilty allure. This book is not morbid or gratuitous, it is, rather, a caring depiction of what seems to be life's essential drive to ravage, as well as of the beauty that remains in its ruins and debris. And we are confronted with the fact that our efforts against this ravage are ultimately what make us human and beautiful. Simply put, this book is human and beautiful." 
— Marc Lowenthal, "Raintaxi"

Over the Door: The Ornamental Stonework of New York

From 1989 through 1993, John Yang undertook an intensive photographic study of the ornamental sandstone reliefs on New York City brownstones and tenements of the late 19th century. The result is "Over the Door," a meticulously prepared and exquisitely produced volume of urban portraiture — Yang’s photographs capture the various moods of the many sculptured personalities that stand watch over the doorways, spandrels, and arches of Manhattan. The photographs are also a study of the effects of time on these carvings, which, regrettably, are rapidly deteriorating from acid rain as well as the happenstance of real estate development —
demolition and renovation each take their toll on the carvings.

Yang’s methodical study of these relief carvings — he covered every block of Manhattan, from the Lower East Side to Harlem, several times in his search for subjects — has yielded a valuable book for the sake of its subject alone; but like Atget, Walker Evans, and other great “documentary” photographers, Yang chose his specific subjects primarily for their value to him as material for his art.

This dialogue between historical documentation and the artist’s personal vision makes "Over the Door" a landmark book of photography, as well as a photographic book of landmarks. It also brings to the fore the artwork of another era — faces peering down from the many layers of the modern urban streetscape.

Published by Princeton Architectural Press
Hardcover, 192 pages, 5" x 7", ISBN 1568980574

"The photographs in 'Over the Door' are indisputably John Yang’s — closely observed, contemplative, eloquent, and outside of time and space. Here, carved in an indeterminate past, are expressions of New York’s most anachronistic yearnings, and Yang’s detailed attention renders them at once achingly familiar and exceedingly strange."
— Andy Grundberg, Director, Ansel Adams Center for Photography