The Photo Regional needs a new name. But only when it lands at the Opalka Gallery.
Three years ago, on its first visit to the Opalka, the annual exhibit of our area’s best photography morphed from a juried show to an invitational curated by Opalka Gallery director Jim Richard Wilson. Subtitled “An Observer Selects,” the exhibit featured 18 of our finest photographers. There was some grumbling about “invitational” versus “juried,” but it was an outstanding show.
And the invitational certainly didn’t diminish the next two Regionals. Hundreds of photos were submitted when the show returned to its juried format for the 2007 exhibit co-hosted by the Fulton Street Gallery and the Capital Region Center for Photography, and there were hundreds more for the 2008 show at Albany Center Gallery.
But “31st Annual Photography Regional” is just too tame a name for this year’s show, curated by Elizabeth Dubben, an artist and College of Saint Rose art grad who runs Albany’s well-regarded Amrose Sable Gallery.
‘31st Annual Photo Regional’
WHERE: Opalka Gallery, Sage College of Albany, 140 New Scotland Ave., Albany
WHEN: Through Sunday, April 12. Gallery open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday and 12 to 4 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 292-7742 or www.sage.edu/opalka
How about “Beyond the Photo Regional” or “Adventures in Contemporary Photography?”
Even the words “image” or “photographer” don’t quite fit. Among the 54 works by 13 artists, you’ll see video, sculpture, painting and mixed media. Without checking the rules, I’d guess that some of these pieces would never make it into the juried show.
And that’s the whole point of Dubben’s invitational. As photography takes its rightful place beside the other fine arts, the boundaries have blurred or become nonexistent.
Many among the 13 are not traditional photographers, but artists who dabble and explore other mediums, who find it comfortable if not essential to shift from one to another.
For all these reasons, Dubben’s invitational is adventurous and challenging, refreshing and stimulating.
While some of her 13 artists seem to have loose or distant ties to the Capital Region or have exhibited around here less than the artists in the first Opalka Photo Regional, there are impressive credentials in this lineup: Roy Arenella, Justin Baker, Liz Blum, Robert Cartmell, Catherine Chalmers, Colleen Cox, Tara Fracalossi, Daniel Goodwin, Mindy McDaniel, Ken Ragsdale, David Seiler, Stu Sherman and Laura Gail Tyler.
In her catalog essay, Dubben describes a mission to create “a window through which to view the many nuances within the world of photography” and invites viewers to jump outside “the photography box.”
Cartmell, Tyler, Ragsdale and Chalmers certainly stretch our ideas about landscapes and portraits.
While Cartmell is best known as a painter, University at Albany professor emeritus and American roller coaster expert, he has always had a passion for photography.
“Three Willows” a 2008 gelatin print, is a magical study of light on trees, branches that flow and sway like long tresses — a supernatural scene that stirs thoughts of Alfred Hitchcock.
Tyler builds small-scale architectural scenes reminiscent of childhood play and photographs them. The four untitled images in this show were made only with paper, fire, water, sand and a deck of cards, but for the viewer, there is an unmistakable feeling of fragility and loss.
In one real-unreal landscape, water swirls and erodes mounds of sands shaped like houses. In another, it feels as if a puff of your own breath on the image could collapse a house made of playing cards, washing it into the sea.
Ragsdale believes that reality is always in flux, that our mundane memories can become fantastical.
“Wishram,” a 2008 archival inkjet print from a photo of a fabricated paper sculpture, is a surreal, dreamlike scene of a camper vehicle navigating a stark landscape. The image is the warm color of flesh and desert, perhaps recalling a Southwest road trip.
An Albany artist, Ragsdale draws, photographs, paints, sculpts and does theater lighting and paper-craft. Thousands of travelers have seen “The Quest,” his foam board/digital print station wagon towing a camper, which hangs in Albany International Airport.
Remember the gigantic close-up photos of insects at MASS MoCA? That was Chalmers, a Californian-born New York City artist, who showed her “Food Chain” in the 2000 “Unnatural Science” exhibit.
At the Opalka, the common house fly, an insignificant and reviled beast, becomes beautiful in four 1994 bug images, including “Sex,” with its balletlike mating moves, and “Group Portrait,” where one can admire wing structure and aerodynamic design.
If you check into Catherine.Chalmers.com, you’ll discover not only a 17-page résumé listing round-the-world exhibits and interviews with CNN and the BBC, but “Safari,” an award-winning, seven-minute insect video.
McDaniel breaks the Photo Regional mold with her mixed-media pieces. “A Paragraph” appears to be seven wooden shelves, each a holder for thin strips of blue paper that are lined up tightly. As a sculpture, it’s already appealing, but if it weren’t for the label, we’d never know that the blue stuff is unprocessed color photographic paper. In three other fascinating works, fingernail-sized photo nibs are pinned to wooden panels.
“My work questions the potential of image-making,” explains McDaniel, who once worked for Jenny Holzer, and now teaches photography at the University at Albany and Saint Rose.
Of the 13, Cox and Baker are the only ones who were in last year’s Photo Regional, where Cox took home the second-place award and a purchase prize.
“Her Pillows,” a 32-by-48 color print of Day-Glo orange crocheted pillows on a tapestry couch, is one of the many images from her intense study of objects that belonged to her late grandmother. Not only are the colors interesting, there are social and psychological messages, especially for women.
Like many of the artists in this Photo Regional, curator Dubben refuses to wear a label. During a 2006 interview by The Gazette’s Wendy Liberatore, when asked about her painting, the 23-year-old Dubben said she preferred to be called “a fine artist” because she also worked with photography, mixed media and sculpture. “I get an idea and whatever medium fits in the idea, that’s what I work in,” she said.
If you want to see Dubben’s work for yourself, her solo show “In the Middle of the World” runs through Friday, March 27, at Dusk, an antiques and interior decorating shop on River Street in Troy.
Back at the Opalka, there’s a special panel discussion about contemporary photography scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday, March 23, in the gallery auditorium.