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Hocus Focus

Every Picture Tells A You Know What In Group Photography Show

OTHER, JUGS, AND SPEED (clockwise from bottom right): Chris Myers’ “Tjorn Ao Ofri,” John Waters’ “Chesty,” And Norman Carr’s “Beijing Bikes.”

By J. Bowers | Posted 1/11/2006

Through Jan. 28 at C. Grimaldis Gallery

C. Grimaldis Gallery’s second annual show of contemporary photography spans several decades and continents. Offering work from 13 eclectic, internationally exhibited artists—including local laureate Neil Meyerhoff’s recent portraits from Bhutan, works by renowned Cuban documentary photographers Raul Corrales and Jose Figueroa, and Leland Rice’s crisp, evocative closeups of the Berlin Wall—Through the Lens II provides a thoughtfully selected look at humankind’s past half-century or so. Oh, and there are some early film stills from John Waters. Not a bad way to kick off a 2006 year in art.

Despite its wildly global bent, Through the Lens II contains a heavy concentration of images of the Cuban revolution, a theme that makes for an intriguing show-within-a-show. Figueroa, Fidel Castro’s former official photographer and a renowned magazine photojournalist in his native Havana, provides an honest look at the deification of revolutionary leader Che Guevara in “Tienda de venta de Cartales.” A neon sign advertising custom framing glows fuzzy white in a storefront window, hovering between a commercial poster celebrating Guevara and another celebrating Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. On the opposite wall, Russian-born Cuba enthusiast Alexey Titarenko ripostes with the equally honest “Untitled (Che).” In this shot, Titarenko artfully captures the revolutionary’s familiar face spray-painted on the side of a dilapidated building, just around the corner from an apartment building where tenants are airing laundry on their balconies. Meanwhile, Corrales—a now-legendary figure who served as Castro’s official photographer during the late 1950s and early ’60s—offers one of his most famous images, the arresting black and white “Sombreritos,” a group of eerily similar-looking straw-hatted soldiers toting rifles over their shoulders.

Cuba isn’t the only focus here, however—and Lens’ diversity is one of its strong suits. Rice, best known for documenting the ever-changing graffiti that once blanketed the Berlin Wall’s west side, is well-represented with “Runar” and “Carlos Gardel,” two beautifully crisp Cibachromes that are just as visually evocative as they were during the late 1980s and almost as relevant in today’s border/boundary-obsessed society.

Washington favorite Norman Carr turns his lens toward China and Hong Kong, exploring the juxtaposition of communist ideals with Western cultural influences through images that are jam-packed with serendipitously found objects and colors yet oddly mathematical in composition. “Beijing Bikes” illustrates the effect that the country’s massive population has upon its urban streetscapes in its scene capturing both a hurrying crowd of Chinese businesspeople with an overwhelming, shiny mass of tightly packed mopeds. “Hong Kong Club” is less chaotic, but no less accomplished, using reflections in a restaurant window to capture the contrast between a serving girl clad in a traditional green kimono and a neon Coca-Cola sign.

Similarly, Meyerhoff’s vibrant, nearly life-sized Fujicolor prints of people in the Himalayan country of Bhutan reveal the mixed effects of Westernization on the largely Lamaistic Buddhist nation, sandwiched between China and India. “Urban Cowboy, Bumthang, Bhutan” shows the somewhat misguided willingness that some youth exhibit toward assimilating Western culture—a young Bhutanese man proudly and ridiculously combines a cowboy hat with a leather jacket, sneakers, and jeans emblazoned prominently with the Levi’s logo. On the other side of the coin, “Young Monk, Bumthang, Bhutan,” easily more than a decade the “Urban Cowboy’s” junior, stands atop a burlap rice bag wearing vinyl sandals and a red quilted vest, but his traditional monkish robes and calm demeanor are unmistakably traditional.

Baltimore-based photographer Christopher Myers might be best known locally for capturing shots of his hometown in City Paper’s very pages, but his misty, cinematic photographs are also on display in the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Reykjavik Museum of Photography. And rightly so—his 2000 series of silver-gelatin selenium-toned prints, taken in the ethereal, otherworldly Icelandic countryside, provides images that are both mysterious and soothing. Labeled with simple, descriptive Icelandic titles—standouts include the stark “Hundur og eldfjall (Dog and volcano)” and the airborne coastlines of “Tjorn ao ofri (Tjorn from above)”—Myers’ photographs elegantly capture the country’s natural beauty.

In addition to these international offerings, visitors can also check out Robbie Conal and Alan Shaffer’s satirical response to the Rodney King verdict, “Dis ARM,” a digitally manipulated image of a flaming billy club. Their work’s colors, presentation, and message are boldly overt, contrasting the more subdued landscape and portraiture surrounding it. The same can be said for the three Waters pieces. Salvaged from the filmmaker’s early-’90s foray into photography, works such as “Tingler” prove that the auteur’s mind never strays far from the silver screen, as the chromogenic print series is little more than a row of carefully captured stills from William Castle’s seminal horror classic. “Eat Your Makeup,” a set of stills from Waters’ own early film, feels similarly cursory, but it’s a passable pop-culture counterpoint to the weightier, more political work on display. Besides, Through the Lens II is such a consistent, high-class who’s who of contemporary photography that a little local shout-out never hurt anyone.

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