Mackey Gallery's Annual Photo Show grows more popular with each passing year. The current, third edition displays the young artspace's customarily astute selection of more or less traditional fine-art photos, this time augmented by adventurous photo collages, photograms and 3-D photo constructions, all by local artists.
Nostalgia tints Patricia Barry-Levy's Polaroid transfers of Western roadside scenes with the faded colors of old postcards. Affixing the instant prints onto fine watercolor paper gives the photographs an antique look, enhancing the flavor of yesteryear captured by this modern process. Barry-Levy's "Wagon Mound Cafe," a sepia-toned composition of diner-booth seats, radiates a flavor of isolation and poverty. A magnetic menu sign and dozens of naively handpainted cattle brands decorate the greasy walls of the cafe. Overlaying the image is a ghostly sheen, an accidental effect of the transfer process. This nearly invisible veil throws a healing distance over the bleak Western scene, bringing back some of its tarnished romance.
Christopher James also mines the territory of nostalgia and memory, but his subject is a much fresher loss to Denverites. James's "Sixteenth Street Viaduct" installation documents the last days of that venerable--and vanished--landmark, all done in the moody tones of black-and-white night photography. A section of the rail from the demolished overpass stands in front of a wall of photos, strengthening the impression of a historic museum exhibit. The photographs themselves are a treat, somehow more emotionally satisfying than daylight photographs of the same subject might be. That area of lower downtown seems to come alive when the rest of the town is asleep, and James reveals this noir existence with great sensitivity: The lonely lights of slow-moving trains, the garish shadows of flash-lit, rickety pylons and the scary piles of twisted rubble all bring a lump to the throat.
Just as moving, but fictive rather than journalistic, Jean Casbarian's ethereal artworks resemble Victorian "spirit photography." Deft overpainting in oil obscures and alters the underlying photos, intensifying their gothic atmosphere and elevating the medium beyond simple trick photography. Using mirror reflections and other compositional devices, Casbarian arranges several layers of perspective in the dramatic photo-scenarios, blending technology and the painter's art for a richly evocative effect. "In Your Midst I May Be Taken" merely seems to be a staged depiction of two ectoplasmic figures floating in the dark. But when the shadowy outline of the photographer appears in one of the forms, the "Taken" in the title becomes a joke, and the eerie ambience of the painting a mocking satire of spooky pictures. Other works summon more pathos than humor. "I Am Here Behind the Glass Window Kneeling Before You" presents a dreamlike melange full of psychological implications. A woman's nude torso, framed by an antique window, and an ambiguous ghost-form, perhaps symbolic of female genitalia, share a murky, heavily painted background. Unspecific but electrifying, the photo/painting prods unexplored areas of the unconscious.
Another type of alternative photography, photograms are one-of-a-kind images, formed by placing objects directly on light-sensitive paper. Kit Hedman's exceptionally clear and detailed examples of this technique expose a different, shade-dominated view of familiar things. In Hedman's untitled photogram, the delicate interior components of a sunflower appear brilliantly lit, revealing the miraculous structure invisible in normal lighting conditions.
Photography plays a more minor part in Frank Yantorno Jr.'s mixed-media 3-D constructions. Pastiches composed of bits of marble tile, classical columns, nude male torsos, nuts and bolts, Plexiglas and photos, Yantorno's attractive but stereotypical works hint at alternative-lifestyle issues without advancing the dialogue. A subject this complex deserves more depth and fresher imagery.
Full of rich variety (twelve artists are included) and thought-provoking viewpoints, this exhibit mixes daring experimentation and familiar pleasures for a full-spectrum art experience.
The Third Annual Photo Show, through May 14 at Mackey Gallery, 2900 West 25th Avenue, 455-1157.
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