Two photographers work in very different, yet equally effective ways


May 31, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Artist Jan Staller was incorrectly referred to as "she" in a review Friday in Maryland Live.

The Sun regrets the errors.

When photographer Herman Emmet started out on the project "Fruit Tramps," he decided that it would not be about poverty, politics, or the world of migrant farm workers. Instead, he writes, it's "about a proud and loving family, the Tindals."

And it is. But the viewer also can't help seeing, in these stark but loving black-and-white photographs, the poverty, and the hard, narrow, neglected world of migrant farm workers, and by implication the politics and politicians that pay too little attention.


Emmet is one of two alumni of the Maryland Institute, College of Art whose photographs make up "Observances: Photographs by Herman Emmet '75 and Jan Staller '75." The exhibit has its faults, but it's an excellent idea to show two graduates using the same medium in different ways, each worthy of the tribute.

Both have produced books, from which their work here is taken. Emmet's "Fruit Tramps" is the most poignant kind of documentary photography, because it focuses on a small group of people whom we get to know, almost to love -- especially the Tindals' daughter, Tina, as she grows up in what most of us would call appalling conditions, taking a bath in the sink of the converted school bus they live in, sitting on an empty herbicide bucket to warm her feet at the stove. Yet she's quoted as saying, "I'd like to follow in my momma's and daddy's footprints. I'm proud of their footprints, who they are. People should know about the type of life we lead." Indeed.

Staller's photographs are as different from Emmet's as one could well imagine -- colorful, peopleless, formalistic -- but effective, too. She seeks the "kind of frontier found on the outskirts of the well-traveled areas of the city" and captures in these "deserted" areas the "atmosphere . . . rich in mystery, reminiscent of a lost city."

So we have a train standing alone at Hoboken, N.J., a HudsoRiver passenger ship terminal, a transit station in Queens. Composition, color and sometimes the dark of night collaborate to achieve the atmosphere and the mystery, although Staller appears to cheat sometimes. Is Manhattan Bridge a deserted area? Lots of places are deserted when shot in a snowstorm at night.

"Gansevoort Street at the Hudson River" may or may not bdeserted at high noon, but in any case is likely to be "on a foggy morning at one o'clock." Never mind; however contrived, Staller's photos show us a quiet, empty New York we don't usually see, and she can make a thing of beauty out of a highway ramp.

The exhibit has one major problem, too few photographs: 20 of the 70 in Emmet's book, 17 of the 55 in Staller's. There's much empty wall space which should have been used, as it has been for other shows here.


When: Mondays to Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursdays and Fridays to 9 p.m.), Sundays noon to 5 p.m., through June 30.

Where: Maryland Institute Fox Building, Mount Royal and Lafayette avenues.

Call: 225-2300.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.