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A Global Photographic Survey Comes to Chelsea

Written by: Maureen Flynn

International trends in contemporary art photography are featured in "Tripping the Light Fantastic," at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from November 20 through December 11. (Reception Thursday, November 29, 6 to 8 PM.) Mexico's Alfredo Esparza makes an impressive debut in his first exhibition outside that country (where he had no less than four solo shows in 2007), with haunting black and white prints focusing on themes of isolation and alienation in the modern world. Chile is also well represented in photographs of Trinidad Mac-Auliffe whose photos of painted human bodies focus on vulnerability while adding a wry new wrinkle to the historic relationship between photography and painting.

Roberto Grilli, a Czechoslovakian-born photographer now living in Ireland, finds inspiration in the raw natural beauty of his new home, which he sees as a source of creative renewal as nourishing to his spirit as the fiery sunsets and sunrises fill his pictures with vibrant color and light. Japan's Rei Niwa, on the other hand, finds inspiration closer to home in his pictures of festivals where people in traditional costumes gather to celebrate their culture, even while ironic hints of modernity often intrude. Picturesque vistas of her native French Alps are viewed from an emotionally resonant subjective angle, often verging on abstraction, in the photography of Mary Mansey, who frankly confesses that much of her work centers on her own romantic struggles.

By contrast, the Colombian architect and photographer Adolfo Orozco celebrates nature and the rituals of his Indian culture from a more objective angle in images that range from the serene to the explosive. Then there is Italy's Paola Tarasconi, who captures candid urban interactions revealing facets of the Italian natural character through subtleties of stance and gesture in relation to the surrounding architecture that hark back to the Venetian scenes of Canaletto. Cariappa Annaiah, who was born in India but recently became a citizen of the U.S., takes a more formal stance in his still lifes, which amount to "portraits" of a single lily, and appear akin to Mapplethorpe for their pristine delineations of sensual shapes, albeit further enlivened by this photographer's exquisite sensitivity to the nuances of color. Coloristic magic also figures prominently in the work of the Hungarian photographer Judit Rigo, also known as J. Thrush, who achieves a unique limpidity in her views trees and foliage in verdant bloom and eye-boggling watery reflections that lend her landscapes a vertiginous beauty.

Conversely, there's a gothic quality to the black and white imagery of New Zealand photographer Stefanie Young, whose "theatre of space" often transforms her human subjects into players in dynamic phantasmagoric dramas with a somewhat ominous atmosphere. Joe Zammit-Lucia, a British photographer and former physician, gains our sympathy for the endangered animal species that he chooses for his subjects by virtue of a clarity of composition that raises documentary and wildlife photography to the level of high art. Gary Auerbach's fairy tale castles, Native American portraits, and nocturnal images in photogravure all reveal the timeless atmospheric qualities that made his work appear very much at home among that of masters like Stiechan, Strand, Durer and Goya in a recent museum exhibition near Geneva.

Equally engaging in another manner, the color and black and white photographs of Indiana's R. John Ferguson, such as a self-portrait consisting of the photographer's shadow cast on a snowy-limbed tree, unearth the magic in the commonplace. Also including images in color and black and white by Perri Hart, a naturalist and photographer who combines a unique visual wit with her love for the great outdoors, this is one of the more varied and comprehensive photographic surveys we are likely to see this season.

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