In 2006, when the Opalka Gallery turned the Photography Regional into an invitational, tradition was tipped on its head.
But as the years passed by, and the Opalka hosted three of these exhibits, the invitational became a kind of tradition, too. After all, the juried show still flourished when it was hosted by the Albany Center Gallery or the Fulton Street Gallery, as the annual show rotates between those two venues and the Opalka.
The late Jim Richard Wilson, founding director of the Opalka, created the invitational. “To me, a curated show is a stronger show than a juried show,” Wilson told The Gazette in April 2014, a few months before his death.
Time marches on, and now, for the first time, the Opalka is presenting the 37th edition of the exhibit as an open show.
37th Annual Photography Regional
WHERE: Opalka Gallery, Sage College of Albany, 140 New Scotland Ave., Albany
WHEN: Through Sun., April 19. Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tues. through Fri., 12-5 p.m. Sat. and Sun.
HOW MUCH: Free
RELATED EVENTS: Film series: “Marwencol” at 6:30 p.m. March 26, $5; “16 Photographs at Ohrdruf” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16. Free. Director Matthew Nash will do Q&A after film.
MORE INFO: www.sage.edu/opalka, 292-7742
The Photo Regional is “meant to highlight established and amateur photographers. With an invitational show, you get a high level of work but it tends to be people you already know,” says Opalka director Elizabeth Greenberg. The open show “gives everyone an opportunity; it’s more inclusive.”
Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, a husband-and-wife art duo whose work has been in major museums, are the jurors this year, and they selected work by 39 photographers, including 11 college students. (The ParkeHarrisons live in Saratoga Springs, where Robert is a Skidmore College professor).
Apparently not everyone got the news about the changed show and its top-shelf jurors because only 66 photographers submitted 296 works.
Compare that to last year, when Albany Center received 460 entries by 131 photographers; or 2013 at Fulton Street, with 100 photographers and 353 images.
But the ParkeHarrisons plucked the pearls from this smaller pool to bring us a show that is fresh and real. It has a raw yet polished beauty that is accessible to all viewers. There are no works with video or sound.
Kayla Coons’ digital color prints of nude female torsos are arresting and fraught with emotion.
In “Restrain,” we flinch at the sight of an ample body bound with black ties that are pulled by a male hand that punches into the right side of the frame. In “Repress,” the woman is thin, her form classical, but a carpenter’s vise grips the flesh of her left abdomen. Domestic violence, gender inequalities and female weight obsession come to mind.
Daesha Devon Harris tells the stories of four African-Americans in our community.
Each large contemporary color portrait is teamed with a small transparency depicting the subject’s youth or childhood that is smartly suspended inches from the wall on a piece of glass. In one of these sets, we see a young woman and her new husband cutting a wedding cake in the vintage image, and in the larger picture, Inez Tillman, now a proud senior citizen, sits placidly in a backyard garden adorned in a stylish hat.
James Gant, Johnnie Roberts, organizer of Solomon Northup Day in Saratoga Springs, and Cecil Myrie, the late street musician in Saratoga Springs, are the other subjects.
Startling white flesh, sporting very real body hair and moles, appear in images by Brian Williams that are framed in black grids. Draped in velvety fabrics in jewel colors, the body sections, which are not quite identifiable, become a kind of glorious stained-glass window.
The smooth, pinkish legs of an infant are curled inside a flesh-colored vessel in Julie Pankowski’s “Leg Fold.” Curves are accentuated, the infant legs tucked so neatly inside, the composition seems like a piece of fine porcelain. Or perhaps a seashell or birth canal. But look again. These are the legs of a doll, not a human.
Clifford Oliver stops us in our tracks and gets us thinking with two black-and-white photos he shot in the Empire Plaza. In “Albany Capital Black Back,” a dark-skinned male body builder, nearly nude, stands silhouetted against the Capitol building. In “Corning Tower Gone Black,” three women stand in the plaza as a building leans precariously behind them. Are these images about race? Maybe. Not only are they neat moments in time, they are open to interpretation and that’s what makes them so compelling.
Standing in the center of the gallery, one is surrounded on three sides by large-scale landscapes on paper by Beau Comeaux. The effect is splendid, and from a distance, it’s somewhat sci-fi, as concrete towers, mounds of earth and lurid yellow skies suggest other planets or a post-apocalyptic Earth.
Move in closer, and the images are really workaday construction sites that have been given new meanings through a photographer’s eyes.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or [email protected]