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If you ever doubted that “landscape photography” could be exciting or metaphorical, you can put that old idea to rest at the Griffin Museum in Winchester, where the B&W work of four artists with distinctively different views just opened.
After more than twenty years as an international photojournalist in “places too horrible for words”, Dominic Chavez has sublimated his unsettling experiences into a look at the innocent land that both hosts and offers respite from these human dramas in his exhibit, “U-Turn”, in the Main Gallery.
With trademark compassion, Chavez infuses his soul into these photographs, unapologetically wearing his heart on his sleeve. His energy is palpable in contrasty, dynamic compositions, his faith apparent in “scorched earth” landscapes and his spirituality obvious in stirring vistas, such as the lone tree spied across an inhospitably rocky mountaintop set in dense fog, simply named “Self-Portrait”. Revealingly, none of the locations of his landscapes is named, only Chavez’ feelings about them.
In alignment with their emotional underpinnings, strong compositional lines and textures dominate Chavez’s large B&W photographs, along with the frequent use of edgy, high-contrast printing. It’s an unusual feat: Chavez entices the viewer to join him on an emotional roller-coaster ride through his creation of breathtaking scenes from his ventures to the near and far corners of the earth.
“Human Nature”, the portfolio of work by Brian Alterio in the Atelier Gallery, is comprised of floral still-lifes and human figure studies, but is meant as a conceptual landscape of the life cycle. Alterio has created careful considerations of close-up, dramatically lit forms against diffuse and sometimes contrasting backgrounds that serve as contemplative refrains on the parallels of life and death in plants and people.
I found it interesting that the sharp focus and detail in his flowers were met with charitably soft focus in his human figures; perhaps the re-texturizing of skin was intended to emphasize the similarity between floral and human shape and line. Taken singularly, Alterio’s prints are beautifully rendered B&W images, but when his aesthetic floral studies mirror the shapes of his equally sensuous figure compositions, they are presented side-by-side to even greater effect.
In the Griffin Gallery, Clyde Heppner presents “The Ancients’ Views Portfolio”, where the “Ancients” refer to Chinese master painters from millennia past. Heppner created his exquisite photographic interpretations of venerated Chinese black-ink paintings in the same magical gardens of Suzhou and majestic Huangshan Mountains where the ancients originally crafted theirs.
Heppner achieves the depth merely implied by the planar style that Chinese artists employed in their work; with fore-, mid- and background elements, Heppner’s sky and earth are compositionally and metaphorically connected in the depth of the middle ground, which man traditionally inhabits. Each B&W photograph possesses expansive tonal range and its crop is either vertically or horizontally exaggerated, in the Asian tradition. Heppner’s contemplative approach permeates his work, inviting meditation and quiet reverie. In “Ancients’ Views”, Heppner has stayed true to the essential elements of traditional Chinese paintings while enhancing their emotional resonance for Western viewers.
In the Hall Gallery, California photographer Kate Jordahl presents six gelatin silver photographs from her series, “Crystal Day”. Many of her small landscapes feature spacious skies and emphasize glowing horizons, the “places where spirit of the earth and the human spirit come together”. Jordahl regards the strong horizontal line present in most of her compositions as a “reflection on the crooked, unmapped roads of our lives.” She utilizes pleasurably dramatic tonal contrast to evoke a celebratory tone which is intended to “capture the spirit and power of place in my photographs.”
The Griffin Museum will exhibit the distinctive work of these four photographers through June 8, 2014. For information and directions, go to: http://www.griffinmuseum.org/index.htm
Feature image: “Up, 2013”, archival pigment print by Dominic Chavez (courtesy of the artist)