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Camera Buffs

Few Standouts In Local Photography Club’s Exhibition

CLUBBABLE: (from left) Barry Christie's "9 Alarms," Kay Muldoon-Ibrahim's "Winnowing Tef," and Steve Harman's "Poplar Leaf" are among the highlights (and lowlights) of the baltimore camera club members' show.

By J. Bowers | Posted 8/17/2005

The Baltimore Camera Club Members’ Show

At the Baltimore Gallery through Aug. 25

More so than any other art form, successful photography depends upon being in the right place at the right time. Since 1884, members of the Baltimore Camera Club—notably, the oldest photographic society in the United States—have spent their free time pursuing the elusive combination of subject, light, angle, and luck that fuels great photography. This month, Highlandtown’s Baltimore Gallery displays the club’s latest and greatest efforts, handpicked from their frequent contests—and the results reveal that while amateur photography is alive and well in Baltimore, it’s inconsistent at best.

The Baltimore Camera Club Members’ Show is definitely hurt by its presentation—the tiny Baltimore Gallery is a stiflingly hot, uncomfortable space with all the aesthetic appeal of your grandmother’s cluttered basement, and the work on display suffers as a result. There’s a big difference between the charm of a naturally rough-edged warehouse space and the slovenly appearance of a poorly tended gallery. Even accomplished, arresting photographs such as Barry Christie’s “Nine Alarms,” which won the club’s Image of the Year award, look unprofessional when they’re jammed together on the wall. Despite the shoddy presentation, however, it’s impossible to deny the power of Christie’s shot—capturing Baltimore firefighters in the thick of battle against a billowing rowhouse blaze, “Nine Alarms” is equal parts terrifying and beautiful, and permeated with an eerie brownish haze. Christie nails the whole right place, right time thing with this one.

Wayne Ballard provides another standout shot with “Hull Street,” a film-noirish black-and-white image of a narrow industrial staircase, lit by a single, unshaded bulb. Richly textured, the scene almost vibrates with potential energy, just waiting for a leading man to step on-screen. One of Ballard’s other industrial prints is also here, tucked amid a wall full of other Camera Club pieces. Unfortunately, “Hull Street” is mounted so close to the floor that you’ll have to stoop to appreciate its full effect.

The third star of the show is Kay Muldoon-Ibrahim, a painter and photographer who has visited more than 70 countries throughout her career. “Winnowing Tef” compositionally resembles painter Jean Francois Millet’s “The Gleaners,” depicting three kerchiefed people tossing forkfuls of grain into the air. The image has a sepia tone to it that nicely complements the pastoral subject matter. Muldoon-Ibrahim tackles urban photography in similar high style with the winner of the club’s Graffiti competition, “1904 McCulloh Street,” a photograph that uses the location’s mural of African-American community life as a backdrop for a black couple pushing a baby stroller. The interaction between the mural’s painted elements and the foregrounded streetscape is interesting, and a wall of blue bricks stands in convincingly for the actual sky.

Karen Messick’s Graffiti entry, “For My Dogs,” only serves as a reminder that photographers snapping off shots of graffiti are really just stealing another artist’s thunder. Here, Messick photographs a mural of greyhound dogs, emblazoned with the tag for my doggs by some clever spray-canner. Funny, sure, but not that funny. Messick’s other offering, “The Teacher,” is a completely unengaging, drab, compositionally awkward shot of a man showing some children how to, well, do something involving sticking papers to a wall, but it’s hard to say.

The rest of The Baltimore Camera Club Members’ Show is disappointingly reminiscent of a county fair photography competition, with prints crammed chockablock on a wall. Sonia Estruch’s “White Vase” and Steve Harman’s “Poplar Leaf” are similarly unremarkable still lifes, lacking the drama and command of light that such photographs demand. John Davis is slightly more successful with “Time Machine,” a shot of a shiny mechanical component, reminiscent of local sculptor Andy Mezensky’s work—but the lighting looks off, dulling the object’s metallic sheen and creating an unpleasant fuzzy blur around the entire piece.

All in all, it’s hard to take much about this show seriously. Casual art collectors might find something for their living room, and photography dilettantes might be inspired by some of the work on display. Perhaps better presentation would up the ante somewhat, but when the content is this haphazard it’s really hard to say.

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