New Directions in Photography Seen in Chelsea

Written by: Marie R. Pagano

Ocean Point Levitation Silver Gelatin

That no other art form has progressed as rapidly as photography in the past half century should come as no surprise to viewers of “Tripping the Light Fantastic¬ The Fine Art Photography Exhibition,” at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from April 18 through May 8. (Reception: Thursday, April 24, 2008, from 6 to 8 PM.)

"The relentless press of nature," to employ her own felicitous phrase, inspires the landscape photography of Eleanor Owen Kerr, a native of Louisiana, whose images of majestic rocks and waterways have a sculptural purity and a monumentality that can be seen to particular advantage in a picture such as "Ocean Point Levitation," her view of a river flowing crookedly through a corridor of boulders. Uncovering many precious mysteries of nature hidden right out of sight, Kerr's pictures provide hiding mental places for the viewer, where he or she can experience, however vicariously, a sense of serenity that all too often eludes one amid the hectic contingencies of modern life.

Conversely, London-based photographer and painter Nathan Pendlebury finds his primary stimulation in city streets and subways, savoring their variety and energy on the run. When he is not creating abstract paintings inspired by tactile walls scrawled with graffiti, Pendlebury is capturing telling urban vignettes with his camera, such as "Station," his candid image of a bearded Hasidic man sporting the traditional black garb and side curls as he hurries past a stalled train with his head held high, as though determined to ignore all the distractions of the secular world.

Bronx born photographer Allen Palmer creates his own world in miniature by focusing on toys and figurines that come startlingly to life in his color pictures, such as "The Great Garloo," in which we look over the shoulders of a mechanical character strolling across the polished wood floor of what appears to be a typical suburban living room. With his Mohawk haircut, broad shoulders, leopard skin loincloth and huge feet sporting Spartan sandals, this green cousin to The Hulk is obviously a warrior, a lord of all he surveys, as he gazes toward an overstuffed indigo sofa, alert to any possible danger. It is comforting to know that this conscientious sentry is on the job, protecting the American home against all manner of alien forces.

Beth Parin is another photographer who deals with human narratives, albeit of an enigmatic nature, as seen in "Catholic Girl," her haunting image of a young woman wearing a loose shift that barely covers her buttocks, standing alone in an empty, light-flooded room, gazing out like a startled deer through the surrounding picture windows at a disjointed landscape, where ominous storm clouds are gathering. Although the setting is familiar, this image projects an atmosphere of anxiety as exotic as any of the foreign cultures Parin captures in her travel photographs of places like Egypt and Belize.

Then there is Yasmin Shirali, who creates her own compelling Twilight Zone with photographs such as "How to Get Your Mind Back," in which a lone figure wanders dreamily, knee-deep in weeds in a desolate landscape where what appears to be an escaped umbrella floats like a kite overhead. Here as in another picture where a morose young female carnival performer adjusts her oversize bowtie while a similarly clad woman behind her appears to have misplaced her facial features, Shirali creates the photographic equivalent of surrealist painting.

Like the other photographers in this sharply focused survey, Shirali extends the possibilities of her medium by virtue of her singular, subjective vision.

Image Credits: Ocean Point Levitation Silver Gelatin, 24" x 20"

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