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Don’t kill the messenger: a photo-based digital work by Milt Connors.

Digital World
By David Brickman

New Media & Photography
Perrella Gallery, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, through Feb. 7

When the medium is the message, and art is the messenger, interesting things always happen. At the Perrella Gallery of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, first-time curator Milt Connors has put together a well-crafted exhibition that aims to show “the impact digital technology has had on photography and . . . current contemporary art.”

Such a premise is by nature too broad and deep for a small group show to truly satisfy; still, the four artists included, Connors among them, cover a nice range of the possibilities in new technology while remaining aesthetically compatible.

The smoothness of the show probably is due in part to the fact that all the artists are connected through the University at Albany. Danny Goodwin and Thom O’Connor have taught there; Connors and Sandra Wimer received their MFA degrees there. But one wouldn’t assume such a close relationship from the artists’ ideas, which are significantly diverse.

While one might expect the point of the show to be that late 20th-century technology has opened up new possibilities for the kinds of art that can be made, it seems that Connors’ point instead is that, regardless of technology, it’s the ideas that count. Then again, if new forms are discovered along the way, all the better.

In the case of Connors’ art (which, like the others, is photo-based), the process behind the picture is as important as the end result.

Connors, who through his job as a newspaper platemaker has access to countless newswire photographs in digital form, culls through files of mostly mundane images until he finds things that have a certain resonance. Later, he combines and alters the images to change their meaning and imply a different narrative than the original news story.

In some cases he adds photos he shoots himself in a studio with models; the end result is usually a very large-scale gallery image, far removed from the original digital wire source.

Evoking postmodernist icons such as Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Jeff Wall, Connors confronts the viewer with images that are at once familiar and bewildering.

Rather than give the story away, he creates tension in the associations among the pictures, giving the viewer something to interpret, chew over and think about. In a 4-foot-by-10-foot panel titled Fatal, for example, a car accident on the right is juxtaposed with a crying, clinching couple on the left.

One may assume that the couple have lost a loved one, or that one of them is a survivor of the crash—there is a soap-opera quality to the close-up portrait that clearly aims to evoke our sympathy. But in reality, we know nothing at all about what is being shown—even the car accident could be staged, or falsified digitally—and we realize that these associations are a product of our own imagination, not of anything we actually know.

Connors’ use of the medium is more for impact than for aesthetic effect, but he retains a subtlety that is gratifying nonetheless.

Wimer, on the other hand, is making images that are almost totally aesthetic. Her cloud pictures recall Alfred Stieglitz’s Equivalents, with variations in the structure of the sky standing in for various emotional states.

But Wimer is more of a cold technician than Stieglitz. Though her gorgeously made digital prints on rag paper are beautiful, the bull’s-eye in the center of each one belies any notion of 19th-century romanticism therein. At the same time, barely legible handwritten rows and swirls of words float among the clouds, suggesting the poetry of dreams.

Like Wimer, Thom O’Connor has a background as a printmaker, and the meticulous traditions of that medium are present in his richly hued Iris prints of lone everyday objects. O’Connor presents a cup, a pitcher, a pear, each against a black backdrop. They are seen from a low point of view, blown up very large and grainy, reduced to their essences of form and tone, lovingly rendered.

Only two prints, one of a silvery bowl, the other of a piece of cake on a stand, add greater complexity, and they do it to good effect. Both emphasize light, as the bowl reflects the busy pattern of a tablecloth and the cake stand casts a moody shadow that hovers near it like a UFO.

Goodwin is perhaps the most challenging of these artists. His two short videos and four prints are joined by subject matter—all present some aspect of a suburban backyard scenario—

but utilize different media and styles.

His three digital prints (Sandbox Corrupted, Chimney Corrupted and Filling the Pool Corrupted) exploit a glitch during output that transformed the black-and-white images into subtle symphonies of grays, browns and pinks, with a texture something like a tapestry due to the digital pixels. The colors are strongly reminiscent of the look created by an early photo printing technique called solarization: Goodwin’s corruptions share their unrepeatibility with that chancy process.

A fourth print, straight digital color (like much of what comes out of photo labs these days), was mistakenly made from a low-resolution file, digitally enhanced. It shows a patch of lawn and, due to the corrupted process, actually looks terrible up close but gets better as you step back. Either way, it is less successful than Goodwin’s black-and-whites.

His videos both incorporate sound as a device. Whether you find the sounds meditative or annoying may depend on your state of mind at the moment, but they are repetitive in the extreme. One depicts an inflatable swimming pool continuously filling and overflowing; the other (titled Icarus) cuts back and forth from a figure blowing up a tremendous balloon to a shaky aerial view of a backyard.

As a whole, the show is a fun exploration of some of the possibilities presented by new technology, with artists whose grounding in artistic traditions enables them to create work that is by turns beautiful, compelling, perplexing and smart. And that’s a message worth repeating.

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