Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Window shopping for images

City Gallery
994 State St., New Haven, (203) 782-2489
Phyllis Crowley: The Looking Glass
June 1—24, 2007

The photos in Phyllis Crowley's City Gallery show are all shot through (or off of) some kind of surface, be it a window, screen, fabric or plastic. The traditional nature of looking is challenged by this. Rather than focus on the object in the way our vision normally does, Crowley focuses on the layer between us and our default focus of attention.

Several of the images are shot through glass wet by dew or rain. Our impulse would be to wipe away the moisture to see what's beyond the glass, what is obscured. But Crowley instead shoots what we would wipe away and captures images both natural and beautiful.

In the vertical image "Streamers," we see emerald leaves of a plant through a layer of glass or plastic. The layer is covered with moisture, some of which has rolled down the surface in beaded rivulets. These trails vary in their intensity. In their varying weights of light and dark and their uneven flow, they resemble a thicket of spindly trees.

"Miami Dew" is shot through a window covered with moisture. It's an abstraction of light and dark and subtle tones of blue, green, red and orange composed of thousands of water bubbles. It is an inviting composition, almost Pointillist, but I was bothered, as I looked closer, by a softening of the focus toward some of the edges.

Phyllis Crowley stops and looks. I mean, really looks—what am I seeing here?—and she finds in that looking compositions that other photographers might reject precisely because the "real" subject is being obscured. In "Speckled Sky," we view a tree (or telephone pole) and a couple of buildings situated among greenery through a window. The world beyond is soft focus, pastels, bathed in warm light. But in the foreground, the window frame on the right is a deep black and the glass is encrusted with dust. Looking through this physical scrim feels akin to viewing the world through an emotional scrim of isolation and abandonment.

With "House Divided," we are looking out through dirty broken glass spotted with white paint and tints of rich bluish-green. Some of the images are striking merely as abstract compositions with color. Three in a row on the back wall—"Blue Cube," "Hot Chili" and "Poseidon"—read as engaging geometric abstractions.

Viewing these works made me consider the larger idea this show could encompass: The way we see the world is, in large part, due to the prism through which we view it. In these images that prism is a surface, such as the dirty window in "Speckled Sky" or the screened fencing in "Screened Out." But in everyday life, that could be a whole network of deep-rooted assumptions, prejudices, etc. Our belief system, hiding behind the rubric of received wisdom. What we consider "common sense" colors or filters our perceptions, often without our awareness.


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