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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

ALL Gallery in photo finish

ALL Arts & Literature Laboratory
Erector Square, 319 Peck St. Building 2, New Haven, (203) 671-5175
Black + White
Ends Feb. 9, 2008.
Artist reception: Sat. Feb. 9, 5—7 p.m.

Black + White, the last show at ALL Gallery in New Haven, is a fine juried exhibit of black and white photography. Featuring 15 national and international photographers—including a half dozen from Connecticut—the show displays the medium's broad expressive range within the limits of black and white tonality. The subject matter includes landscape, street photography, abstraction and more.

The show leads off with Ingrid Schoelkopf's two images of dolls in an exotic second-hand store. They were photographed at a time when Schoelkopf was absorbed with concerns about an impending surgery and thoughts about her mother's and sister's breast cancer. The images are odd and deeply disturbing. In "Bell Jar," the dolls in the display case are tumbled upon each other, like corpses of babies, blank-eyed. Another is stuffed into a big pail reading "Lamb Livers." Behind the pail, a naked doll is contained within a jar, looking like a fetus in formaldehyde. The emotional disconnect stems from the way these playthings, arranged with such disregard for their "personal" dignity, appear to embody the fragile nature of human emotion and physical existence.

Marjorie Wolfe's two prints find emotional resonance in the woods. "Blighted Trees," shot from the ground up, looks through a converging circle of pines. Stripped bare by hurricane winds, the desperate frazzled branches reach up into the blank whiteness of the sky. The sky is so stark, in fact, that I could entertain the optical illusion that I was looking from above down through trees rooted in snow. A single, spindly tree stands out in the foreground of "Almost Dew Point." The surrounding forest is ghostly, blanketed by a thick mist.

The woods are also a point of fascination for Joan Fitzsimmons. Her "Woods_17" depicts the forest of our dreams (or nightmares). This is a place where fairy tales, enchantment and horror intertwine. She has combined blurry images of tree branches in darkness—seen as one might fleeing through a nightmare!—with cut paper imagery inspired by the Polish folk art Wycinanki. One cut image, of a fetus in utero connected to a blaze of what appears to be foliage, is used as a photogram effect, to mask off some of the scene. A cutout of a small skeletal animal is collaged upside down in the lower right corner of the print. The image is spooky, suggesting that our relationship to nature is primal, elemental more than intellectual.

Jessica Somers' print "Bond" is photography as box assemblage. In the image, male and female hands reach for each other in a wooden box. The man's middle finger is connected to the woman's ring finger by a delicate piece of string. In the left corner of the box, two pears nestle against each other. There are elements of still life and surrealism as well as the complex emotional symbolism of the box, string and fruit. The brushed-on borders of the Ziatype print give the composition a raw energy.

Harry Longstreet's two images are fine examples of street photography. Voyeuristic yet humane, he catches moments in which interactions or, in the case of "Her Own World," solitude, feel both personal and universal. The solitude of the woman in "Her Own World," countenance lost in thought, is complemented by Ryan Wong's image "Man in Light" on the facing wall. In Wong's picture, a congregation is seen from above (as with "Her Own World"), seated in the pews of a Catholic Church in China. The room is quite dark except in the center of the print where one man in a white shirt sits attracting a bright light. There is a suggestion of his solitary spiritual enlightenment. In both images, the photographers are looking down on their subjects in the physical sense but not in an intellectual sense.

There is a double frisson of voyeurism served up in Samantha Wolov's "Always Tip Housekeeping." Wolov, who specializes in erotic and fashion photography, shot a couple in bed in a darkened motel room, lit from the outside (the curtains aren't drawn). The duo—probably a man and a woman though it's impossible to tell for sure—are cloaked in shadow. Through the window glare can be seen the faint image of the housekeeper passing by, pausing to look at the couple. It's a fun commentary on the nexus between work and play.

In Lauren Chester's "Duality" a pair of glasses sit on a window ledge. Looking out through the window, the scene of trees and a nearby building are outside the focus range. Looking through the left lens of the glasses puts the outdoors even more out of focus. The right lens is so scratched as to impede vision completely. Only the frames of the glasses and the window frame on which they rest are sharp. It seems to be a comment on the choices of photographic vision.

A cheap plastic Holga camera was Isa Leshko's tool for capturing "Point Pleasant, NJ #1." But for Leshko, its very limitations are its strength. Shooting with one aperture setting and a choice of either one shutter speed or bulb, Leshko nailed the thrill of the amusement park in this image. In the evening's darkness, the bulb exposure captures the lights of a carnival ride as whirling tracers.

There will be an Artist Reception at the gallery this Saturday evening, Feb. 9, from 5—7 p.m. ALL Gallery will host an event to mark the gallery's closing the following Friday, Feb. 15, starting at 7 p.m.


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