Photography as art: Some gimmicks work, some don't

July 07, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

At first glance, Ben Marcin's photographs at Nye Gomez look gimmicky, but it turns out that he's doing something interesting with them: he's organizing the everyday world in order to explore formal possibilities.

Among the most effective are four in which a foreground pole bisects the image. What lies behind the pole, on either side, is a continuous landscape or cityscape, but Marcin has placed the pole so on one side the eye is hit by a flat plane while on the other there is a deeper recession.

This play of plane vs. depth recurs in four other pictures of walls in landscape, in which one can read the walls as receding into the picture at an angle or as flat trapezoids. Four more pictures explore the dichotomy between plane and volume: the foreground disc in each can be seen as circle or sphere.

Marcin is one of the more interesting artists in the current show of five photographers in the main gallery.

Another interesting artist is Margaret Royston-Ely, whose very small (3-by-4-inch) Polaroid transfer images have the look of peeling frescoes. This impression of the partly worn-away image is heightened by the fact that these are pictures of parts of bodies: a torso, or a head and shoulders. These images are all the more enticing and sensual for being only partial; they possess the allure of mystery, which is always more effective than the explicit.

Joseph Hyde must feel that his black and white photographs of trees silhouetted in landscapes are not sufficiently compelling to stand on their own, for he has given them elaborate, alliterative, jokey titles: "Finally, Flora would face the fact that faring for those foster kids was financially, no longer feasible."

These are sometimes quite funny, as in the case of the Flora

picture of a tree looking frazzled and -- forgive me -- frantic. But the cumulative effect of these ultimately silly titles is to trivialize the photographs.

Stephen Spartana's color aerial landscapes approach the abstract without quite crossing the line. Some are nicely composed, as the one of a row of trees, beside a road, throwing their shadows onto the adjacent field.

This group of Spartana's work is not entirely consistent, but certain images stand out.

McKendric/Goldman is a collaboration of two artists, Gigi L. McKendric and Jeff D. Goldman, who arrange and photograph groups of objects -- a small classical head, a cylinder, a piece of string, etc. -- then make multiple prints which they organize into patterns: two upside down over two right side up, etc. This is a gimmick, which has fleeting visual appeal but not much substance.

In the office or "Gallery 2" space are the small, romantic, tonally rich platinum/palladium prints of Dan Burkholder, which qualify as neo-pictorialism and achieve considerable beauty when they avoid the precious.

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