Laura Gail Tyler’s Untitled (2007).
Annual Photography Regional
Gallery, Sage College of Albany, through April 12
If you wear eyeglasses you know what it is like to have the
world suddenly snap into focus. The moment when your vision
goes from blurry to clear can be a revelation.
As I stood in front of Stu Sherman’s photographs I thought
about this and about the similarities and differences between
the human eye and the camera. Sherman’s images are blurry
around the edges with one area of clear focus in the middle.
This is much like how we see. The interplay between what is
clear and what is out-of-focus is miraculously translated
by our brains into three dimensions. Sherman’s images, on
the other hand, collapse foreground, middle ground, and background,
which gives them a surreal quality.
Our affinity to the photographic medium has much to do with
the fact that the camera mimics the mechanics of our eyes,
and the photograph is closely linked to our concepts of reality
and memory. Inherent in the notion of a photograph is its
“truth.” However, since its invention, the veracity of a photograph
and the nature of photography itself have been the source
of much artistic and philosophical experimentation and inquiry.
The closest thing to straight photography in the 31st Annual
Photography Regional is the work of Roy Arenella. But Arenella
is less interested in the “reality” of a scene than in its
interpretive possibilities. Some of his images capture interesting
visual moments, such as a group of marquee letters strewn
across the sidewalk or a quirky billboard. Others explore
his role as photographer. For Photographer in Landscape
he has rubber stamped a cartoony camera figure strolling onto
While Arenella uses black & white, Colleen Cox uses vivid
colors to capture an intimate and personal tableau. Her melancholy
images evoke nostalgia and loss. For Ascension, Cox
uses a similar strategy to Sherman and blurs the edges of
the photograph. This gives it a more ethereal and reflective
Like Sherman and Cox, Liz Blum uses blurriness to great effect.
But rather than give us a point of focus, her images are entirely
blurred. By not giving us a clear image, Blum challenges our
expectations and teases us with delicacies we can just barely
perceive. Rather than seduce us with straightforward images
of cake, strawberries, and petit fours, Blum offers us a new
kind of beauty.
Also challenging our expectations are Catherine Chalmers’
giant flies. Whereas Blum obscures our vision, Chalmers gives
us the fly in explicit detail. Generally maligned, these insects
are presented to us in a visually seductive way. The minutest
details of their bodies are visible against a stark white
background. Rather than repugnant, these flies are transformed
by their anthropomorphic arrangements. There is an interesting
connection between Chalmers’s Group Portrait and Melinda
McDaniel’s Almost/Never Together. They are not similar
in style but rather in subject matter, as they both reveal
something about group dynamics.
McDaniel is the only photographer in the exhibition to incorporate
sculptural elements. She slices up and reconfigures photographs
to create new and unexpected images, often attached to a wooden
substrate with pins. For A Paragraph, she has sliced
up unprocessed photographic paper and lined the slices up
along wooden shelves in order to explore the potential of
the photo paper to make an image.
While McDaniel blends sculpture and photography, both Kenneth
Ragsdale and Laura Gail Tyler create sculptural elements that
they then photograph. Ragsdale uses his photographic images
to explore the vicissitudes of memory. His paper campers,
barns, and landscapes are lit with a theatrical yellow light.
Tyler constructs paper houses, sand houses, and houses made
of cards. She photographs them in the process of being destroyed
by fire or waves. Her interest in the environment is shared
by Justin Baker who, like Sherman, photographs the places
that have been neglected.
Robert Cartmell, on the other hand, photographs non-neglected
spaces. But his trees and manicured lawns are far from serene.
His black & white images exude an other-worldly, illusory,
and ghostly quality. Daniel Goodwin’s faux scientific depictions
of surveillance and espionage equipment are similarly discomfiting.
While his depictions of contraptions such as Dental Bridge
Transceiver and Eyeglasses (Razor Temple-Arm) at
first feel violent and invasive, their absurdity renders them
Goodwin’s catalogue of spy contraptions compares and contrasts
Tara Fracalossi’s archive of personal moments that capture
“the special, the everyday, the nothing.” Fracalossi considers
each photograph a reproduction of the circumstances of its
own making. It is an exploratory exercise that resonates throughout
While the guiding principle to this exhibition is very broad,
the work included is strong and compelling. It demonstrates
what a show of primarily regional artists can look like when
the organizer has a good eye.