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Uneven Flow

Photography Exhibition Mingles The Good With The Bad, The Great With The Not So

THE ICE FORM: Wes Kline's "Suspension I" is both playful and sinister.
Edward Winter, City Park, 2004, giclee print

By J. Bowers | Posted 7/13/2005

Human Conditions At the Maryland Art Place through Aug. 20

Maryland Art Place’s Human Conditions strives to examine the ubiquity and artistry of contemporary photography. It’s an uneven mix, ranging from relative unknowns to local scene veterans. Some of the 12 artists featured attempt to push the boundaries of what photography can be, some present sublime examples of traditional portraiture and landscape, and some wallow in mediocrity.

Wes Kline’s mesmerizing “Suspension” series of chromogenic prints, simultaneously playful and sinister, is one oaf the envelope-pushers. His subjects are strange little faceless human figurines helplessly trapped in melting ice cubes. A businessman in a suit reaches a hand into the air, groping for help. A woman in a red dress is frozen facedown, poignantly unable to free herself. Best of all, the reflective surface of the prints adds to their icy ambiance. They’re disturbing in the best possible way.

Also on the disturbing/playful tip, John Morris’s “Untitled: Tree Triptych” is reminiscent of 1970s recreation-room wallpaper, depicting three trees in ultrachrome on Rives BFK, a 100 percent cotton mould paper. The process develops colors that are realistic, but a strange halo of not-quite-rightness surrounds the images. They feel like magazine trees, or movie-set trees, not the real thing, and they’re off-putting, yet fascinating.

Sarah Hobbs’ stunning C-prints document her wry sense of humor along with her passion for making installations in her own home. “Untitled (Obsessiveness)” is a marvelously surreal look at what happens when chocoholicism goes horribly wrong: blurring the boundaries between Hershey bars (shown in various unwrapped states) and brown paint, the artist covered her walls (and electrical outlets) with enough sticky brown substances to make Willy Wonka proud. And “Untitled (Perfectionist)” is an image to which all writers can relate—a mountain of crumpled white paper bumps up against a window like kernels in a movie-theater popcorn machine, while a pen and fresh paper wait, poised, atop a writing desk. High-concept and high-quality, Hobbs’ work really shines.

More traditional, but just as arresting, Edward Winter’s stark black-and-white landscapes depict some of the more unsung elements of urban architecture. His “City Park” shows two benches locked in confrontation, spare and forbidding despite their recreational surroundings. Just as straightforward, Arthur Soontornsaratool’s untitled chromogenic prints capture average people in private, unremarkable moments—and highlight what’s remarkable about their surroundings. In one, a middle-aged Asian woman wearing a yellow rain slicker stands beneath a copse of monstrous tomato plants, sheltering herself from a drizzling rain. The colors pop delightfully of the surface, the composition is first-rate, and you get a real sense of character from the woman’s thoughtful, lined face.

Unfortunately, for every photograph that creatively explores the medium, Human Conditions offers another piece that is merely ho-hum. Kelly Maron’s “1 Roll in 15 Frames” is a giant 8-by-10-inch reproduction of a printed film roll, showing 15 views of the same woman’s face, shot head-on every few seconds. The images are cleanly executed but far from intriguing, and this idea has been done to death. Similarly, Jason Hughes’ “Self-Portrait,” a series of tiny images of the artist’s head, presented in varying degrees of profile and shade gradation, feels trite next to the show’s more ambitious offerings.

Jacqueline Schlossman’s images of Baltimore focus on discarded McDonald’s cups, tangled mesh, and other urban detritus—just like every college student’s Photo 101 portfolio. Schlossman does it better, of course, but she lacks a new take on it here. Emily J. Denlinger’s bizarre, fairy-tale-like vignettes find her clipping photos out of magazines and recombining them to create puppetlike dolls, which she then arranges in dioramas. In this age of Photoshop, Denlinger’s homemade aesthetic is an intriguing idea—and her backgrounds are stunningly eerie, like something out of an antique dollhouse—but ultimately the pieces feel unfocused, a shaky first step toward greater things.

Despite the hit-and-miss quality of Human Conditions, MAP deserves some admiration for mounting such a tight exhibit during the summer off-season. In conjunction with the show, the gallery offers its “smART lunch series” during July—a series of free half-hour Wednesday afternoon gallery talks. There’s also a charming series of prints from the Mount Washington School’s Writing and Photography Project in the lobby hallway, featuring the precocious work of elementary-school students who are picking up cameras for the very first time. It’s a sweet counterpoint to the photography in the gallery proper, and well worth a lunchtime peek.

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