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Searching for a vision

New photographs at Stairwell and RIC’s Bannister Gallery
By GREG COOK  |  October 13, 2009


THE ALLURE OF RUINS Tom Young’s Recycled Realities #4.

Haley O'Connor, the co-founder of Stairwell Gallery (504 Broadway, Providence), includes a few of her own photos in the gallery's new show, "Yesterday Today and Tomorrow" (through October 25). Two depict plants, blurrily pulled out of darkness by a blast of flash. The blur, the obliterating glare of flash are classic photography don'ts. But O'Connor sees in them potential -- like a wizardly spark -- for visionary images unique to the medium. "When you can capture magic and it's unbelievable," she tells me, "then you're doing what you can do with nothing else."

I don't feel that magic. But her images and the work of the five other photographers here provide a survey of a style percolating among ambitious art photographers under, say, 35. It can feel like a search for visionary experience amidst banal everyday America. It often seems to incorporate the vivid snapshot aesthetic of Nan Goldin, '80s nostalgia, and glimpses into the lives of dissolute angelheaded hipsters.

Providence artist McKenzie Burris-Granger's photos meditate on strips of sunlight rippling across a bed or lines of light and shadow from window blinds falling across a wall or ceiling. A shot of an opening between brush and trees looks like a secret passage.

Ports Bishop of New York offers a deadpan portrait of a woman with long black hair standing at the side of a road gazing into the camera as she slices a melon with a knife. Jack Ritchie of Michigan photographs a guy in a baseball cap seated in profile next to a lake, another guy with a bandana around his neck in back of a car, and a third fellow sprawled out asleep in a tent.


A JOLTING SURREALISM Willis’s Recycled Realities #53.

O'Connor photographs an older man in swim trunks walking up the dirt bank of a pond or river. Sunlight outlines his back, while the rest of him is in the shadow of the trees overhanging the water. Natalja Kent of Providence photographs her mother kicking up a leg as she swims on her back in some sea, with no land in sight. O'Connor's swimming man and Kent's swimming mom are like ordinary snapshots tinged with an alluringly oddness.

But none of the pretty, wan work here grabs me. Mostly what I feel is as undercurrent of boredom, as if the artists are waiting for something to happen.

At Rhode Island College's Bannister Gallery (600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Providence), John Willis of Dummerston, Vermont, and Tom Young of Charlemont, Massachusetts, are exhibiting in "Recycled Realities" (through October 29), which was organized by RIC teacher Amy Montali. Mountains of printed paper waiting to be recycled at a mill nestled in the hills of Erving, in western Massachusetts, provide inspiration for the series of black-and-white photos. Willis and Young excavate the imagery inside bales of torn and shredded paper. Here are crumpled prints of glass eyes, or smashed and diced photos of a boy's sad face. Photos reproduce images of saints, a monkey, and a boy, and Civil War soldiers next to a reproduction of Renaissance painting.

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Related: Allegorical expressions, Mixing it up, Beauty for beauty's sake, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Photography, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island College,  More more >
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 See all articles by: GREG COOK

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