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By Josiah M. Hesse
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In addition to Mapplethorpe's influences, Sink explores the wild and woolly world of experimental photography, in the process providing Florals with some of its most unusual pieces. Particularly notable are the exquisite, if bizarre, '70s shots by New Mexico master Walter Chappell. For these works, Chappell laid leaves and other plant matter on metal photographic plates, then charged the plants with electricity, which snapped the photo onto the paper. The results are stunning, as evidenced by a vintage silver print such as 1974's "Avocado Leaf." On a black ground, the very dark leaf is outlined in a halo of white sparks.
Several of the artists chosen for Florals are interested in what might be called "direct" photography, which places the subject directly on photo-sensitive paper, in the manner of a photogram. This technique is seen in the marvelous leaf shots of Canadian Adriene Veninger, including "Folia Series, Leaf No. 39," a sepia-toned silver print that sets a crinkled maple leaf in leaden grays on a brilliant white background. In a copyrighted process that photographer Carol Henry calls a Florachrome, she puts plants, instead of photos, directly into an enlarger. When the enlarger is activated, the flash burns up the plants, guaranteeing that each image is one of a kind. The outcome is tremendous, particularly in the naturalist color she's able to capture. In 1997's "Gloriosa," for example, a fiery orange lily is caught just before it shrivels up.
Adam Fuss, a prominent New York photographer, also uses a direct approach. In the pair of photograms from his "Sun Flower" series, loaned to MoCA/D by collector Ginny Williams, Fuss lays flowers on Cibachrome paper and then slowly allows the images to develop--a process that sometimes takes weeks. According to Sink, these Fuss photograms are extremely rare; it was a happy coincidence that Williams had them stored here in Denver.
Emerging Seattle photographer Steven Meyers has found another successful formula for creating compelling works, one that is sure to be taken up by other photographers. A radiology technician, Meyers places flowers on an X-ray machine; he uses the resulting negative image to print a positive silver print. Meyers calls these theatrical, brightly lit photos "radiographs" to indicate the use of X-rays in their production.
One of the most interesting aspects of Florals is the inclusion of conceptual artists, all from Denver, looking at flowers. It was clever of Sink to show straightforward still lifes alongside the signature text photos of Susan Evans--for instance, "#653," a 1998 silver print that is simply the words "The Yellow Rose of Texas" in white over black. (All of Evans's photos shown here owe a debt to her mentor, painter Roland Bernier.) Also stretching the definition of floral photography is a multi-part photo mural by John Hallin (another member of the Denver Salon) that barely includes any flowers, and Phil Bender's found-object assemblages: One features a grid of seed packets with pictures of flowers, another of tin cocktail trays covered in rose decals.
Sink's eclectic choices for Florals: Unique Visions make for a lively show and also reveal a budding curator who is courageous and intelligent.
Albert Chong: Selected Works, at the Carol Keller Gallery in Highland, is devoted to internationally renowned photographer Albert Chong, who has taught at the University of Colorado for a decade. The work is highly autobiographical, but Chong's unusual background provides plenty of fascinating subject matter: He was born in Jamaica to a mother of mixed African and Chinese ancestry and a Chinese father who was a successful Kingston merchant. Chong's photos play on these conflicting ethnic themes, setting Buddhist images alongside voodoo symbols. But he also uses his work to explore racism, particularly the kind he's encountered since immigrating to this country some twenty years ago.
Chong's signature is the staged photograph, and he often uses long exposure times so he can inject phantom images of objects or figures--typically Chong himself--into the works. In the 1992 gelatin silver print "Mr. Imagination," a ghostly apparition of Chong is barely visible sitting in a crisply rendered throne-like chair that has been set in a field of fruit. The fruit, the chair and the apparition are all related to voodoo. In "Ishence (Ganja Smoke on Black Velvet Chair)," Chong captures a puff of marijuana smoke floating above the empty chair, while off to the right is a potted tree and a pile of empty bowls.
Several of Chong's photos have been printed on copper plates, while others are framed in wide copper mats, some covered in incised script. A particularly impressive example of the latter is "Jesus, Mary and the Perfect White Man," a hand-colored gelatin silver print depicting a broken crucifix set next to the head of a GI Joe doll.
This fine show, which closes next week, neatly fits the goal of the young Carol Keller Gallery: to highlight gifted local photographers who, inexplicably, are seen much too infrequently in their home state. And Chong, who has a formidable exhibition record, including work displayed at New York's Museum of Modern Art, certainly fits in that category.
Florals: Unique Visions, through April 9 at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, Sakura Square, 19th and Larimer streets, 303-984-9956. Albert Chong: Selected Images, through February 27 at the Carol Keller Gallery, 1513 Boulder Street, #
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