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Art: Presages at Iris Book Cafe

By Jane Durrell · June 20th, 2011 · CityBeat Recommends

Gordon Smith's black and white aerial photographs, in his show at Iris Book Cafe and Gallery, could almost be handsome abstract compositions. It takes a second glance to recognize what they record: graceful arcs of roadway that abet devastation. Portraits of the people most affected, the dirt-poor, badly educated residents of the Appalachian Mountains whose tops are being removed, are also part of the exhibition. It's quick and easy and efficient, in its way, to take the top off the mountain to get at the coal inside, but Smith's photographs make clear the recklessly damaging collateral effects suffered by the environment and the people living in the area.

Black and white imagery works well for this series, with its disturbing messages, and Smith is a skillful practitioner, using film and traditional darkroom techniques. The people, often shown in their deteriorating frame houses, are unsmiling and serious. The life they live is not inviting. Iris Curator William Messer calls the show Presages, because Smith began working on the series in 1994 when the process was first expanding. Smith was immediately aware of dangers ahead, but need for low-sulfur coal to produce an inexhaustible supply of electricity has kept mountain top removal active despite criticism. Smith's work has appeared in exhibitions in this country and Europe and this particular show has been seen elsewhere, most recently in Toronto. Programming during the run of the exhibition will include Kentucky bluegrass ensembles and talks by experts on Appalachian Mountain music and culture, dates to be announced, and a talk by Gordon Smith on Sunday, Sept.11, time not yet set. Presages: Gordon Smith's Kentucky Coal Country Photographs will be seen at Iris Cafe, 1331 Main Street, through Sept.18.

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