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Up in arms: Vincent Giordano's photograph, Fear 1.

The Usual Suspects
By Rebecca Shepard

24th Annual Photo-Regional
Fulton Street Gallery, Troy, Through May 20

The Capital Area’s 24th Annual Photo-Regional, presented this year at the Fulton Street Gallery in Troy, has returned to its original two-part format: For the first few days of the run, every work submitted is displayed, salon-style, in a sort of democratic free-for-all. It is a delirious image-overload, with hundreds of photographs shouldering against one another, the quality ranging from abysmal to sublime, with many crude, eccentric, and entertaining detours along the way. This is usually my favorite part of the show. It is a truly populist venture in what is perhaps the most accessible of the visual arts.

But the second part of the exhibit, a selection of works culled from the salon and on display for six weeks, loses its raison d’être somewhere along the way. It has much good work, but the pieces begin to fall into familiar categories: You have your portraits, your nature photographs, your found abstraction, your confessional (drug addict in disheveled bedroom), your photos absorbed with the latest digital process.

It is unfortunate when things fall into such categories. It is a deadening phenomenon. But the source of the problem is not the work itself. There are many photos to delight in here, pieces that suggest a complex array of impulses and origins, evading easy categorization, and it is worth mentioning some of them before considering what went wrong.

Marisa Scheinfeld’s small, elegant, black-and-white photos entice the eye with a soft, grainy texture; when you realize that you are looking at railroad tracks at Auschwitz and a shower (gas chamber) at Terezin, it feels a little like being sucker-punched in the stomach. David Brickman’s Junk, Sherman Street, one of his Albany series, shows an accumulation of refuse in front of row houses, the discarded couches and gutted refrigerators making a blocky, variegated lineup along the curb. Poverty and entropy are documented head-on, but with a richness of color and quiet beauty that is almost reverential—you feel you might be looking at The Last Supper, rather than yesterday’s trash pickup. Vincent Giordano uses lenticular technology to take up the question of Constitutional freedoms in his slightly heavy-handed but handsome, prizewinning photos, Speech 1 and Fear 1; each piece shifts between three different narrative images depending on where you stand, then dissolves into an enigmatic reflective surface. For the viewer, it’s interactive fun, a modern equivalent of the magic-lantern show. Heather DeSorbo’s Three Generations triptych presents cropped close-ups of the eyes and nose of a baby, father and grandfather. Their expressions proceed (respectively) from open to guarded to vividly alive in the face of death, and are as telling about the progression of age as the accompanying increase in wrinkles and facial hair.

These are just a few reasons why it’s worth seeing the show. So what is the problem? With no disrespect to this year’s juror (photographer and teacher Phyllis Galembo), editing from the all-inclusive salon format is highly susceptible to failure, most often in the form of too many artists, and too few pieces from each. And in this case, it’s all crowded into a small gallery space, and hampered by window glare. The excitement of the initial salon is over, and nothing equally compelling has replaced it.

Last year the Photo-Regional was presented at the Albany International Airport, with juror Charles Stainback selecting work from slides, and presenting more work from fewer artists. It was an excellent exhibit, but it omitted the initial no-holds-barred salon. And maybe what we have is two distinct shows, after all. Maybe the open salon should exist on its own, revel in its carnival spirit, and not be parent to the juried exhibition. And the juried show, in turn, should have free reign to explore all curatorial avenues toward its most effective presentation.

Camera Obscura Dreaming

Orchestrated Objects
Mandeville Gallery at Union College, Schenectady, Through May 19

If you are going out to see photographs, be sure to see Orchestrated Objects, photographs by Jed Devine and Abelardo Morell at the Mandeville Gallery at Union College. Devine uses the platinum-palladium process to create images simultaneously ethereal and resolute in their lucid detail. Notable among Morell’s works are stunning prints of bedroom interiors in which he uses the camera obscura technique to project an image of the exterior world—usually a familiar monument like the Eiffel tower—onto the interior space, creating a dizzying merge of dream and waking life.

—R.S.

 


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