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Art: Review: Trick of the Light

Dennis Kiel returns as Manifest show’s guest curator

By Laura James · January 2nd, 2008 · Visual Art
  Daniel Kariko�s �Pylons, Sulfer Mine Island, Louisiana�
Manifest Gallery

Daniel Kariko�s �Pylons, Sulfer Mine Island, Louisiana�

Dennis Kiel, former curator of photography at the Cincinnati Art Museum and current chief curator at The Light Factory in Charlotte, N.C., has popped back into town -- or at least his critical eye has.

Kiel is serving as a guest curator for Manifest's current exhibition, Trick of the Light. The show is "not an exhibition about deception or magic," Kiel says in his curatorial statement, "though many of the images are indeed magical."

True, the Manifest exhibition reaches beyond pure trickery and enters something of a dream state. Banal subject matter glows with a fascinating light. Objects turn to pure form. Time seems to have stopped or slowed or gone back on itself, depending on what photograph is in front of you.

Francis Michaels' photograph is ostensibly simple. Razor-cut color -- color that seems a little too real for real life -- is the first noticeable thing. Your eye will wander down to the bottom of the photograph first, where the light is concentrated. A swimming pool, average. But the pool has been sliced by Michaels' lens; it's visible enough only to be understood. Beyond the pool stands a wire fence, door swung open, then a plain, low house and several cars.

Something about the angle of the shot, about the intense light and color, about the total absence of people lends this picture an eerie note.

Before even reading the title, "Backyard Tragedy," you easily gather fear -- someone got hurt; time slowed to a churn; the party turned surreal and nothing will ever look the same.

Jamie Kennedy taps into a different kind of surrealistic sense in the two photographs included in Trick of the Light. Both large digital composite prints are relegated to black and white. There's no real sense of shadow, no attempt at making what is unreal real.

In "Steal a March," birds of various kinds perch around a larger one at the image�s center. That bird wears an odd machine around its body and wings. How it got there seems to be anyone's guess, since the world seems populated only by butterflies, flowers, birds and eggs.

The eggs offer a sense of new birth -- the unnatural wingspan seems like that birth takes place in a brave new world. The magic here is that it all seems so easy, and the bird, which should be weighted down by such a contraption, strikes a graceful pose. The other animals seem curious but not at all frightened.

Richard Giles' photograph, "Almost Homeless at Fulton Street and 48th Avenue," turns us back to vivid color. The foreground is nearly overwhelmed by an abandoned 1950s-era trailer. It seems like dawn. The homes behind the trailer are in colors like pink and yellow. Even the gray ones appear colorful because of the warm brightening sky.

Only a few lights are on in the houses -- those lights are in turn the only promise of humanity here. The rest is a Hopper-esque streetscape, where loneliness filters in and grips everything.

Diane Deaton-Street has three photographs in the exhibition, set one on top of the other. Each picture features a girl gazing at an old, abandoned house. She's at a distance from the house, and we are at a distance from her.

She stands with her back toward us, no way for us to see her expression or understand what she's feeling. She exists there as our proxy, calling us into the photograph. She is holding our place, or so it feels.

Deaton-Street aptly titled one picture "Recurring Dream" -- reading my mind. I think I�ve had that dream.

More than that, though, the images seem to move us through time. The girl stands in the current moment, while the houses fall to entropy in the backgrounds. Even beyond the houses, the sky in each photograph is thick with artifice, recalling the photographs of ancestors. The sky, in other words, is something so old it seems made-up.

Laura Fisher's wonderful little light box, "Inter Interis I," about 3 inches square, holds an unknown woman's portrait. Light pours through the back, lighting up the woman's face.

She is, in a way, representative of everyone's unknown ancestors. Someone to whom we belong, but someone we've never touched or seen. A picture of the past before we knew time, locked away, framed, still untouchable.

Daniel Kariko's pinhole image "Pylons, Sulfur Mine Island, Louisiana" brings about that sense of the past. The image is a study of a waterscape, but so much more than that: Out of smooth water, poles rise like memorials. This time, though, Kaiko's technique more than anything conjures the past.

Pinhole cameras are one of the most rudimentary kinds. There is no lens, only a tiny hole, or aperture, through which light passes. There is no film or date chip, just light sensitive paper.

The pinhole camera has a long exposure time -- no point and click here. The changes in light are evident in Kaiko�s image; sways and shadows that seem almost like ghosts.

Critic's Pick

TRICK OF THE LIGHT is on view at Manifest Gallery through Jan. 11. Get gallery details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.



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