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Water, benign and fierce

Sailing photos at Moses Brown, Katrina’s aftermath at Brown
By GREG COOK  |  September 15, 2009


ENDLESS SUMMER Van Der Wal's Velsheda Bow.

In Onne van der Wal's sailing photos, it seems the weather is always balmy and the golden sun always setting. The Jamestown resident's exhibit at Moses Brown School's Krause Gallery (250 Lloyd Avenue, Providence, through October 2) depicts a world that's forever at its endless summer, can't-get-any-better-than-this peak.

A bird's-eye-view shows two Farr 40s flying their spinnakers as they race with the wind at their backs in blue waters off Miami. One shot gazes down the wooden deck of the contemporary luxury cruising schooner as waves blur by (due to an extended exposure) as it sails toward the hilly coast of the French Riviera at sunset. Six 12-meter boats race off Newport, beating with their sails trimmed tightly in. The yachts are so dramatically close together and neatly staggered that it could be a dance number.

Van der Wal visits England, Antigua, Hawaii, and Grenada, focusing on the dynamic beauty of the shapes and colors of the vessels, the water, the reflections, the sunlight, the sky, the speed. The images are so pretty that they sometimes feel like advertisements. Sailing's air of gentlemanly luxury and wealth is a prominent undercurrent. The salty human drama of racing is largely absent.

Most of the 16 photos here are printed large (up to seven feet wide) on canvas. This gives the prints a breathtaking scale and a physical mass on the wall that photos often lack. But many of the prints turn grainy from the canvas texture and the enlargement of the images beyond what the pixels (most of these are digital) can support. A stunning aerial shot of four people swimming in a glittering turquoise sea at Tonga in the South Pacific loses the definition of the waves that are key to the photo's allure. It's too bad; Van der Wal is a better photographer than these prints suggest.

Meanwhile Brown University marks the fourth anniversary of the devastation wreaked upon New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and "heck of a job" government rescue and recovery efforts with "Katrina, Katrina," a series of talks, screenings, performances, and exhibits across campus through September 30. Hopefully the events aren't as halfassed and lame as the exhibits.


DEVASTATION A photo by Ian Sims from 'Katrina, Katrina.'

The best display is "6 Months After," Brown undergrad Ian Sims's photos of New Orleans half a year after Katrina, on view at the Rockefeller Library (10 Prospect Street) and Hillel Gallery (80 Brown Street). But his shots of debris-strewn streets, soggy ruins, clean-up crews, protests, and parades are interesting primarily as records of data. Sims is still developing his technique (prints are blurry) and his eye. But by going to New Orleans, he demonstrates one of the keys to good photography: get yourself to the right place at the right time.

Almost two weeks into "Katrina, Katrina," Robbie Byron's installation No Tap Shoes Allowed hadn't been installed when I went looking for it at the Orwig Music Building (1 Young Orchard Avenue) late last week. The lobby there offers a small case displaying photos of wrecked libraries and boring charts of home sales.

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