The camera has come a long way from being a simple image recording device to what it is today, an electronic image recording device. Even a phones do it. Pretty soon you will wear glasses that record every moment of your incredibly interesting day. Just look, shoot and share and the world will know how mediocre your life really is. Our brain already does this for us and we possess a marvelous editing device called “forgetting.” So why are we so obsessed with visually recording everything that we do? Are we afraid no one will remember us? Are we insecure? Are we deluded in thinking our lives our important? If you answer YES to any of these questions, then stop reading. You don’t have time to waste. Quickly take a picture of yourself before you disappear.
But for those who prefer a more intellectual, relaxed and introspective approach to the art of digital photography, then “Double Vision” is for you. This show is a journey full of surprises presented by photographers Theresa Smerud and Byron Annis, two different artists with two unique perspectives. Combined, their images create an interlocking mosaic of 21st century life, from children to the aged, from the familiar to the foreign, from introspection to pure observation.
Theresa Smerud is a rule breaker who likes a good challenge. And photography offers that challenge. Her backstage images of young ballet dancers preparing to perform captures youth in transition: “I like being in the wings witnessing the dancer’s momentary expressions of passion and focus. I’m not looking to just freeze the moment (although she does) but create a more universal image, not a portrait. I become a voyeur watching for that one authentic moment” A great example of how this works can be seen in “Three Ballerinas” (my favorite in the show). The figures seem isolated the faces expressing disinterest, intent and anxiety.
Holding her camera and using only the existing dim light, Smerud takes long exposures with a high ISO (1300-2400). This results in large amounts of “digital noise” that give her images a soft tone and texture. Her compositions are framed in the camera and Smerud sometimes highlights or accents her pieces with pastel chalks. Her piece “Fireflies,” reminiscent of Degas, borders on the abstract and the space fills with motion, ballerinas poised in space, performing. “Getting Ready” is a shimmering abstract of red and orange in which an arm or leg is just a small element in the composition. The dancers are only an indication, a suggestion rather than the main focus.
Overall, her work covers a wide range of styles and subject matter, from rainy day river scenes, to models in angled poses, but always, just below the surface lies an underlying quiet tension that pulls the viewer in to take another look at the hidden world around them.
On side B of this review, I talk about the work of Byron Annis. Please flip this page over to continue.
Byron Annis is not a rule breaker, but a ground breaker, an intrepid explorer of our world. With camera in hand, this now retired neurosurgeon takes to the road and looks at and records the life around us. Starting in the early ‘90s, just as digital photography was coming to the fore, he delved into this new technology with eagerness and passion. Oh for the love of Photoshop! But, it’s not just his post-production computer skills that define his work, but his uncanny ability to capture the mystery and casual intensity that fills our environment. His work is not about what we see, but what we don’t see. In post-production he nudges and adjusts our reality: “I like to exploit the space beyond realism, to explore abstraction in order to reach a more fundamental understanding of the world I encounter.” His work is not cropped, but like Smeruds’, framed in the camera so you see the whole picture as the camera sees it.
Some of the most exciting work centers on Annis’s trips to Cuba. Here we view life in a crumbling, decaying world and what he shows us IS life, reflected in the eyes and expressions of those islanders, in their habits and occupations unfettered by western cultural influence. A superb example can be seen in “Inspecting Sneakers”. At first the people seemed posed, but a closer looks reveals a stopped motion reminiscent of Renaissance and Dutch painting. Hands caught in gesture, heads turned, dabs of color accenting time and place, all this catches us off guard and for a moment we are there. “Stripping Tobacco” is a wonderful image where we get to look into another world. Here all details are equal and balanced, from the magazine page decorations hanging from the roof, to the work slogans on the walls to those focused on the task at hand. A woman in the foreground smiles and stares back at us as if there is some joke we don’t get. In “Morning Havana”, a highly detailed image shows us a crumbling building punctuated by blue plastic barrels mounted high up on the facade. Pedestrians casually stroll beneath the weight of this edifice, absorbed in their own lives. Viva Cuba!
But back in the U.S. Annis captures, “Singer Needing Some Love” shot at the Mangoes Club in South Beach, FL. A singer standing high on a stage sings to an audience that hardly notices her. A few are turned towards her, but most are absorbed in conversation or drinks. It is a symphony of blues, verdigris and pink, a heady atmosphere where you want to pull up a chair and order some rum.
Annis’s work is varied and precise. His images are haunting, a travelogue of places we should visit and people we should meet.