kill the messenger: a photo-based digital work by Milt
By David Brickman
Media & Photography
Gallery, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, through Feb.
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
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
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
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
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
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.