Gallery Lucida

Three approaches to photography at Whitney Art Works
By IAN PAIGE  |  February 27, 2008
insideart_oldorchardbeach
WARMTH IN COLD: "Old Orchard Beach #1," by Matthew Robbins.

"Genius Loci" | photographs by Nathan Eldrige + Matthew Robbins + John McNeil | through March 1 | at Whitney Art Works, 492 Congress St, Portland | 207.774.7011
Whitney Art Works for the next few days hosts the work of three Portland photographers (Nathan Eldridge, John McNeil, and Matthew Robbins) exhibiting entirely different but complementary approaches.

The cold steel that comprises Robbins’s industrial subjects is tempered by his eye for composition and technical prowess with color. Digital prints help the artist deliver the bluest of skies and whitest of snow. In “Old Orchard Beach #1,” powdery flakes rest delicately on an aluminum ridged roof. We see ornate boardwalk architecture head-on from the back alley, revealed as hollow façade with strong vertical lines echoed in the visible scaffolding, roof, and a foreground fence. Hollow proxies of two turrets and two cupolas protrude into a white-out sky complemented by a permeating teal green in the architecture. As cold as this scene should feel, there is a warm mask over the entire photograph, helped by the minor human presence of tracks in a small strand of snow in the immediate foreground.

“Tank #5, Snowstorm” takes Robbins’s knack for rigid composition turned sublime to its extreme. A large oil tank, familiar to any Portland-dweller, emerges from a spotted, snowy ground but is mysteriously barely visible. The artist manages to avoid photographing the storm while capturing its effects. The tank fades to near white, merging with the sky. Only a sharply contrasted numeral 5 and a few chips of paint give away its presence. The curvature of its roof is elegantly repeated in the bow of a chain-link fence in the foreground.

In “Tank Painter #1,” a direct frontal view of a tank’s staircase removes any perspective and curve such that steps become an extreme oblique running through the middle of the composition. Focus is sharp, but the prevalence of white maintains a sense of the dreamy symbolic. A lone painter, dressed mostly in white with a blue hard hat, hoists a black trashbag over his shoulder and begins a long climb from the lower right corner of the photograph. His sunglasses remove his humanity, he becomes a representative in a dream, and climbs to parts unknown.

Meanwhile, Nathan Eldridge is having a lot of fun in his darkroom. His work moves to equally surreal worlds, but through painterly manipulation of the camera and the lab. This intention is emphasized by printing onto canvas. Archaic Polaroid film captures a lone figure staring up at a spindly tree in “A Homecoming.” Focus is distorted so much that the subject almost disappears, becoming more like brushstrokes than film. The tattered edges of the negative are lovingly printed as part of the composition, framing the eerie scene.

Focus is more pulled in for “Resurrection,” from the same shoot. The figure jumps, captured by the camera hovering above the ground. The scene fades at its edges into cloudy obscurity met with abstract manipulation of the film. Emulsion runs into estuaries, disrupting the image with shapes reminiscent of coral reefs. A row of repeated circles from the negative frames the top of the work, juxtaposed with the softly rendered subject.

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Related: A decade of song, Coming alive, Being there, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Photography, Visual Arts, Matthew Robbins,  More more >
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