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As unpredictable and insidious as a stray bullet, terrorism is fracturing our world. Wreaking havoc not only on their physical targets but also across the broad psyche of society, the agents of violence utilize remarkably similar instruments of destruction. In a timely, compelling and imaginative examination of guns, ammunition and our shared media experience of violent events, the Griffin Museum of Photography is presenting the work of six contemporary American photographers in all three of their Winchester, MA galleries through March 6, 2016. This is a strikingly affirmative response to a depressing dilemma, addressing controversy with inventive inquiries that engage viewers visually, intellectually and emotionally.
“Bullet Points” in the Main Gallery features the work of four photographers whose work focuses on ammunition. In her series The Big Bang, Deborah Bay photographs a variety of bullets shot through Plexiglass. Explosive and radiant, they so resemble intergalactic skies that both the creation of the universe and devastation to human flesh seize the mind in poignant contradiction. Christopher Colville creates controlled explosions of gunpowder on the light-sensitive emulsion of photographic silver gelatin paper that he outfits with objects gathered from the Arizona desert. Sometimes he finds targets that bear images like an assailant or, in one angry instance, a formal wedding portrait. The effects of gunpowder and smoke obfuscate the images, leaving a tactile, luminous surface that magnifies their dimensionality and visceral effect. Moody and mysterious, his unique images are “the residue of both creation and obliteration, generated from a single spark.”
Sabine Pearlman photographs cross-sections of WWII ammunition in her series Ammo. Pristine and clinical, her enormous color images are an intricate and unnerving look at purposeful design, “like getting a glimpse into the psychology of warfare.” Garrett Hansen’s super-sized photographs of individual bullet holes from gun range targets balance “the fundamentally destructive act of shooting with the creative process of enlarging, processing and printing in a darkroom” (feature image, from the series Void). His graphic images make an emotionally fierce impact. Likewise, his suspended, black Silhouette banners, created using bullet-peppered full-body targets, are at once gorgeously abstract and terrifyingly real.
In Domesticated: Seeing Past Seduction (in the Griffin Gallery), Yorgos Efthymiadis achieves an unsettling, paradoxical effect by camouflaging exquisite antique guns in the equally ornate surroundings of their collectors’ homes. Utilizing elegant composition, luscious texture and rich palette, Efthymiadis perpetrates a sneaky seduction, lolling the viewer into blissful docility with his masquerade of finely crafted firearms. But such complacency is short-lived, as we are awakened to their inescapably destructive past.
In re:(media) (in the Atelier Gallery), Krista Worendyke explores how attractively the media packages and delivers scenes of violence in their creation of a collective societal experience for American consumption. Using appropriated pieces of images from multiple media sources, Wortendyke makes vibrant digital collages of spectacular, fiery explosions. Her intentionally fractured compositions of falsely barren desert backdrops with pleasing, media-manipulated pastel tones accentuate the incongruity of magnificence and destruction, prompting the viewer to question what is real and what is fake.
With the world so plagued by a seemingly inescapable wave of violence, an understandable impulse would be to turn away in sorrow or disgust. It is a testimony to the imaginative spirit of these photographers (and the Griffin Museum!) to instead engage viewers in a response that turns terror on its ear. Transforming the explosive energy that accompanies the act of destruction into one of creation, each artist invites the viewer on a probing and enriching journey, one that entreats the eye even as it distresses the soul.
For more information about these exhibits, go to: http://www.griffinmuseum.org/blog/exhibits-griffin-museum-of-photography/
Feature Image: “Void (.40 Caliber)” detail, by Garrett Hansen (courtesy of the artist and Griffin Museum of Photography).