Narrowing the field of vision


May 20, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

In her series of photographs titled "Moving Day" (1989), Barbara Young shows us an image being narrowed and tightened. The first image takes in part of one room and part of another in the background. In the center of the image are a door, a slice of wall, a mattress on the floor and a chair.

In the second image the camera has been shifted slightly to the right, but mainly it has moved in on those four central objects, and in the third image it has moved in even closer. Young here plays with composition, with light, with color. But she's also reminding us how something in the field of vision can suddenly catch the attention, make us focus on it.

What's more, she gives meaning to the few objects pictured. By naming the photo "Moving Day" she makes us realize that while the mattress and the chair will move, the door and the wall will not. Moving day, when we leave behind a part of life, is a particularly wrenching experience; but we leave behind a part of life every day.

Young's best photographs among those currently showing at the Katzenstein Scarlett Place gallery (through May 31) are those of unpeopled rooms. In some of these, form comes to the fore; in some, content; in still others, the two set up a counterpoint. " 'Gull's Roost' The Dry Sink" (1987) is essentially an abstraction of geometry and color except for the central pitcher stuffed with a leafy fluff, which acts as a foil for all the angles elsewhere in the picture.

In "Bertha's Porch" (1988) the slightly out-of-focus posts in the foreground thrust the viewer onto the porch, with its blue-green doors and its run-down chairs. We're charmed by the colors, but we wonder who Bertha is and why she only has these two old chairs on her porch. Is she poor? Is she a servant? Or is it a case of "I'll get around to new chairs when I get around to it." Young's photos encourage the viewer to wonder about the unseen people who live, or lived, in her interiors.

With the series "A Tree Grows in Fells Point" (1990), Young's concerns are more purely formal than with the "Moving Day" series, but both are effective. Her nature photography, while pretty, is less interesting. She's at her best when she sticks to places with walls and doors and floors and the geometry of everyday life.

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