Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Photographing the unseen places, unseen faces

City Gallery
994 State St., New Haven, (203) 782-2489
Tom Peterson: Out of Sight
Through June 26, 2011.

If the essence of photography is light, in Out of Sight—an exhibition of Tom Peterson's photographs at City Gallery in New Haven—texture would come in a close second.

The show alternates between images of rundown urban environments and facial close-ups of the people who inhabit those environments.

In the urban landscapes, Peterson captures the rough stippling of painted concrete, the weathered grain of a wood door, the stolidity of brick and the jagged line of broken glass. The diagonal lines of scorched wooden boards on a fire-gutted house in "Yesterday's Footprint #2" contrast with dark fractal-like swirls of grain in a panel sealing a window opening. Color enters the equation in a bold way in "Crack," an image of a concrete wall painted in bold blue and green. From the top right center a meandering thin crack—a wayward tributary or stream through a verdant forest—wends its way toward the center of the image, bordered by a white glow.

The portraits are new for Peterson. He photographed individuals he has met on his walks, primarily in New Haven. (One portrait was shot in Boston.) According to Peterson, his subjects asked him for money. Peterson, in turn, asked permission to photograph them. With their consent, he did so and reciprocated with more money than they expected. But it was important for Peterson that the interaction didn't end as a mere transaction. He engaged his subjects in conversation to try and get to know them.

Texture signifies here as well as in the landscapes. Their faces reflect tribulation and the weathering of hard times but also a fierce pride. In the portrait of "Robert," the wiry explosion of his gray Afro frames his large face. By choosing to move in close on his subjects, Peterson closes some of the visual distance that so often exists between those who live on society's margins and the rest of us. Their eyes appear to fix ours, returning our gaze. It is an illusion, of course. But to engage and not turn away is a start.

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