Urban life captured in photographs


Washington residents are subject of exhibit

July 13, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The photography show at Westnorth Studio on North Avenue between Maryland Avenue and Howard Street demonstrates why this off-the-beaten-path gallery is one of the city's most adventurous alternative art spaces.

The current exhibition, titled Neighborhood Archive Project/Mardi Gras Afternoon, is the work of TBA, a five-member collective of Washington-area photographers who set out to document the residents of the old Washington Sanitary Housing Co. apartments, a public housing complex in a distressed Southwest neighborhood.

The area was the site of one of the country's first urban renewal projects around the turn of the last century, and many of its residents are longtime homeowners. But gentrification remains a distant prospect for most of the apartments' inhabitants, who in any case might well be forced to leave the area if property values were transformed by an influx of yuppies.

The TBA photographers have compiled an archive of more than 100 large-scale portraits of the complex's culturally diverse population. The color ink-jet photographs are printed on thin sheets of white Tyvek, a translucent plastic industrial building material that is virtually indestructible. Hung without mattes or frames, they eloquently convey something of the gritty urban environment in which TBA's subjects live.

A few of the photographs are almost shockingly frank. One, depicting a homeless man who died shortly after his portrait was first exhibited in Washington, is particularly heartbreaking; it turns out that the day the show opened in the district was one of the few times in his life that anyone had ever paid him the slightest attention.

This is a fascinating and, in some cases, deeply disturbing show about a group of people who are mostly invisible to contemporary art audiences but whose problems are at the core of virtually all our hotly contested social policy debates. For that reason alone, it is well worth seeing.

The TBA collective includes Mark Clark, Hank Ferrand, Harlee Little, Bruce McNeil and Michael Platt. The show runs through July 30. The gallery is at 106 W. North Ave. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday. Call 410-962-1475.

At Resurgam

In the late 1960s, Baltimore native Barry St. John Hawkins was an award-winning television newscaster in Washington, where he showed great promise as a journalist. But after a few years in the business, perhaps in a mood of disillusionment, he turned to art, moving to New York in the 1970s to study at the National Academy of Design.

After completing his studies, Hawkins returned to Baltimore and became a photographer for a local arts publication and a painter as well as an active member of the area arts scene. He was on a photo assignment in the mid-1970s when he met the painter Raoul Middleman, who would become a longtime friend and mentor.

Now Hawkins' most recent paintings, drawings and sculptures are part of a delightful two-man exhibition at Resurgam Gallery with local photographer Jack Eisenberg. The show includes about a dozen of Hawkins' works, all of which were completed in the artist's studio in Vermont.

In Vermont, Hawkins met the master carver Ed Hopkins, who taught him the art of woodcarving. Each of Hawkins' sculptures begins with a preliminary pastel drawing, which he then re-creates in vibrant wood sculptures characterized by striking biomorphic forms.

Eisenberg's companion exhibition of about 60 prints features many of the artist's signature images from Baltimore as well as from his extensive travels in Israel. The show is a warm-hearted salute to the quirky charms of Eisenberg's native city and to the colorful characters who make it like no other.

Both shows run through July 25. The gallery is at 910 S. Charles St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Call 410-962-0513.

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