Abstracts are pinnacle of Young's Bahama series

June 11, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Barbara Young is a Baltimore psychiatrist with a second vocation: photography. One of her major projects since the late 1950s has been recording the people and sights of Harbour Island in the Bahamas, and her photographs have now become a book, "The Plop-a-Lop Tree." A selection of the Harbour Island photographs forms this month's exhibit at Galerie Francoise.

There are differences, of course, between what one requires of a photograph in a book and what one requires of a photograph as an individual work. In the book, a photograph is part of the story of the place; it doesn't have to bear the full burden of a stand-alone work of art.

As such, the Young photographs are variously successful. The least successful are the ones with people in them that serve to some degree a documentary purpose in the book, such as "The Bridesmaids" (1962) or the cute shot of youngsters called "V for Victory" (1973). Wisely, few of those have been included in the show.

Better than those, in the pleasant but not particularly remarkable category, are the sea views and beach views, such as "Bahama Banks (3)" (1983) and "Stormy Morning" (1993). The most interesting of these are "Beach at Sunset" (1985), in which the whole scene is suffused with pink, and "The Sea on a Windy Day" (1993), which captures the feel of the wind.

But the best of Young's works (and what she's really all about) are the most abstract ones, in which she uses her subject matter -- and particularly architecture and architectural details -- as explorations of color, composition and space.

In "Beach Cottages, Blue Gate (2)" (1987), one of the best works here, Young plays with a number of these concerns, including the recession of space vs. the two-dimensional picture plane, the geometric abstraction of the composition, the way one side of the single image pushes the viewer away visually while the other side pulls him in.

"Doorway Looking Out" (1974) plays with contrasts of light and ++ dark and gains strength from its powerful diagonals. In "Beach Shadow Play (2)" (1985) the contrast of

dark and light stripes creates a wonderfully vibrant surface patterning. "Willie's Tavern Fence (1)" (1994) comes in close to the fence to divide space into different sections -- you can actually see one wedge of space going off in one direction and another wedge going off in another.

What's most satisfying about Young's work is that she has kept getting better. Now in her 70s, she has done most of her best work in the last decade. That promises well for the future.

PHOTO EXHIBIT

What: "Bahama Photographs" by Barbara Young

Where: Galerie Francoise et ses freres, Green Spring Station, Falls and Joppa Roads

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through June 28

Call: (410) 337-2787

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