Doors and windows to the human soul Review: In shadows and light, photographs from the Barbara Young collection at the BMA explore the gray areas of life.

September 07, 1996|By Diane Scharper | Diane Scharper,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Poetry and art marry in "A Photographer's Vision: Gifts to the Collection From Barbara Young," the latest exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Take Duane Michals' photograph, "I Love You," from the series, "The Nature of Desire."

The black-and-white image shows an artist drawing a model whose face is turned sideways. Her expression seems ambiguous, suggesting either anger or pain or ecstasy.

The ambiguity, however, vanishes when one reads the handwritten message just below the image: "The words flew out of his mouth like startled birds. Higher and higher, they circled about you. Then lingering, motionless, they crashed. Your silence shot them down like clay pigeons."

The poetic words -- images and metaphors -- not only give direction to the picture; they also set the tone for these 23 photographs. All of them suggest the gray areas of life, the places where the angles meet and the corners turn.

So angular are these pictures that from a distance they appear to be vertical lines and rectangular patterns of light and dark. Closer up, the patterns become recognizable shapes.

There are hallways and doors, as in Jed Devine's photograph of walls papered with a floral print. Light streams through a door or an open window, as in Nancy Rexroth's photographs. Moonlight shines on a vine-covered wall, as in Joan Myers' untitled photograph. Light emanates from the eyes of the mother holding her children in "Ellis Island Madonna," by Lewis Hine.

These doors, windows, skylights and hallways do not seem like actual places, however; even the few people in these pictures seem less like people and more like Jungian archetypes, as in "Baja, California," by Michel S. Krzyzanowski.

Shadows present themselves here in the shape of people. Even the lights are heavy with symbolism.

fTC Dr. Barbara Young, who donated these photographs to the BMA, is a psychoanalyst and professor emeritus of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University.

Young, who graduated from medical school in 1945, began teaching herself photography in 1958. Her interest was prompted by her experience in psychoanalysis and by her own need for a creative outlet.

In 1963, she began to collect the work of photographers who influenced her and whose development paralleled her own.

Sixteen photographs by 12 of those photographers form the backbone of this exhibit. Since Young is represented here by seven photographs, and the other photographers are represented by only one or two, the show seems slightly imbalanced.

Yet Young is a gifted photographer, so this imbalance can be forgiven. Her photograph "The Blue Room," with its blue, gray and white tones, is especially pleasing.

Bernard Faucon's photograph, "The Blizzard: The Fourteenth Room," from the series, "The Rooms of Love," also has blue tones. In this picture, snow falls through a skylight and looks like powder on the floor; its white illuminates the stark walls, creating a poetry made not out of words but out of images.

The mood seems somber rather than stark in "Anxiety" by Baltimore photographer Peggy Fox. The picture shows a man trailed by his shadow. He looks into a white space from which a large rock protrudes. The rock is suggestive of the rock of Sisyphus. The rock, the shadow, the man -- all suggest the mythic dimensions of life.

That dimension can especially be felt in Eva Rubenstein's "Italy," the most evocative piece in the show. This contemplative photograph shows an empty hallway opening into a doorway that opens into light.

Is this light at the end of the tunnel? Is this light after death? Is this the light of the mind?

There are no real answers to such questions. But photographs such as this provide answer enough.

'A Photographer's Vision'

Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive

When: Wednesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Through Nov. 3

Admission: Museum members and age 6 and under, free. Ages 7 through 18, $1.50. Seniors and full-time students, $3.50. Ages 19 and over, $5.50. No admission charge on Thursday

Call: (410) 396-7100

Pub Date: 9/07/96

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