CAM show features hand-developed to digital images

Jul. 11, 2013 @ 03:43 PM

“Currents:  Photographs from the Collection of Allen Thomas, Jr.,” CAM, 409 W. Martin St., Raleigh, through Oct. 7.

Gallery hours are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For information, call 919-513-0946.

Two photographs, “Massive Failure” by Carolyn Janssen (b. 1981) and “Center of the Confederate Line View towards the Union line from the position of Maj. General John Bell Hood’s division. Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862, Fredericksburg, Virginia (triptych) 06/02/2011, 7:42 – 7:46 pm” by Matthew Baum (b. 1973), set the tone for this exhibition of photography from the collection of Allen Thomas Jr. of Wilson, N.C. Janssen’s photograph is high-octane digital; Baum’s is old-fashioned straight photography.
The exhibition includes the work of nine artists, who use technology at will and straight photography only at times. Janssen’s fantastic landscape and Baum’s photograph of a Civil War battlefield face each other across the space of the Independent Weekly Gallery; the other photographs fit into the orbit of one or the other.
“Massive Failure,” is a large format digital print in bright, splashy colors; it is mounted on Plexiglas. The scene is a mountain landscape exploding with unrelated images that defy the classical idea of foreground, middle ground and background. 
In his gallery talk Nils Ericson, photographer and curator of the show, explained some things about the Janssen he thought demanded the central position in the show. He first saw the piece on the Internet but could not relate the actual size to its reproduction.  When he saw it in person, he loved it; it does demand pride of place by its size alone. He talked about how the composition visually moves your eye everywhere and pulls you in. There are at least 10,000 different worlds here, begging for a narrative. In one corner there is a burst of color which looks like a Rorschach image. Next to that is a bluish/purple form that close up becomes hundreds of small figures dropping head first into space. In fact, small female figures inhabit all parts of the painting. The center has a large mountain, and off to one side is a found image of a smiling mouth with perfect teeth.  
Janssen was in the group and said there is a lot of art history in her composition. She said the female figures were always planned and Hieronymous Bosch (1450-9-1516) was a major influence.   The smiling mouth could be from the women series by Willem de Kooning (1904-1997).
The other large image which counters “Massive Failure” is the “Confederate Line at Fredericksburg.”   One is hyper digital; this is straight photography.  Baum was also in the audience and he said “Fredericksburg” is part of a series of southern Civil War battlefields.  His scene is framed in three hinged parts; the outer parts spread at a 45 degree angle like an altar piece.  Baum said he took his photograph at about the distance General Hood stood when he surveyed the scene in front of him.  What we see is a peaceful meadow, about 100 acres total, surrounded by trees and a quiet road.  The land has been tenderly cared for; it is hallowed ground.  There was a decisive Confederate victory here, but a hollow one; six months later Hood was part of Lee’s staff at Gettysburg.  The Civil War is very much on our mind because of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and we are reminded once more of the tragic time that was.
Ericson talked about his job of curator and said Allen Thomas Jr. and he are friends.  Thomas needed someone who could dispassionately choose the kind of show CAM wanted, especially in its promotion of emerging artists.  Ericson described Thomas’ house as a place where photographs sit on the floor stacked one on top of the other and hang from floor to ceiling on the walls.  “Thomas buys with a gut-based reaction, so it’s an eclectic mix,” he said, and, in the end, he chose artists whose work would be visually attractive and emotionally connected.  They are also up and coming artists who are showing in North Carolina for the first time. 
Among the other photographs is Debbie Grossman’s take on old 1940s Farm Security Administration images. They are the familiar ones of the beaten-down wife, the grim, hardworking husband and a child or two, eating, posing for a photograph or doing farm work. Grossman has air-brushed in a female partner where the man would have been.   
The nude, a standard of art, is also a matter of discussion here. Two artists, Maciek Jasik and Michele Abeles, approach the nude quite differently. Jasik’s portrait of a nude man shows the subject stripped of his clothing, standing in a blurred pool of saturated color.  Jasik, who was in the group, said only when a human is shorn of his outer garments can he be honestly judged.
Abeles’ nude male reclines in space. His body is bisected as part of a cubist composition and is a play on the classical nudes of Titian, Ingres and Manet. The image is sexually explicit, but is more connected to art history than sexual innuendo. Chris McCaw  exposes film for hours aiming at the sun. The burns in the negative make a singular image. Matthew Brandt photographs bodies of water and then submerges each print for days or weeks in some of the water he has photographed. These processes produce unique images, the antithesis of the photographic reproduction. This show is about every possibility of mechanical reproduction. There seem to be no limits.

Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.