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Brendan Bannon's photographs at Allen Street Hardware

A photo taken by Brendan Bannon near the world's largest refugee camp in Dadaab, in northeast Kenya.


Some of photographer Brendan Bannon’s photos are from Africa, where he sometimes works, and depict human and other life in indeterminate daily struggle for survival in the face of a harsh and parsimonious natural environment. Others, from Western New York, feature spectacular vistas of unpeopled nature, vast and insensible and serene. His show, entitled Lakeside and Other Recent Artwork, is in the back room at the Allen Street Hardware Café.

The Africa photos convey without the least hint of sentimentalizing the destitution conditions of the desert/savannah region and its inhabitants. One of the images is of a makeshift shelter for the night, a kind of crude dome construction of hacked tree branches woven into and among the similarly hacked stumps/stalks of the scrub trees that probably formerly bore the branches, the whole then covered with tattered and mended mosquito netting. No people in this picture, or animals—though an indication perhaps of foraging animals, whether wild or domestic, hard-pressed by famine, in the denuded state of the tree remnants, lacking any sign of bark even. Not to consider greenery.

Just the facts. Another photo is of a young herdsman—a boy about ten or twelve years’ old—and his small drove of milk-white cattle. Basically all just skin and bones. No substantial flesh on the bones of cattle or boy either. Another photo is of a herd of goats, slightly healthier-looking than the cattle. (But goats can eat anything, supposedly. Thrive on anything.)

In another picture, a young girl is sitting on a kind of perfunctory raised platform of the remnants of a clump of scrub trees (similar to stumps/stalks in the dome shelter), probably watching over some family domestic animals. She is wrapped in garments, so that we only see her face in profile and several inches of thin, undernourished-looking bare leg above one ankle, like the undernourished-looking tree remnants she is seated on.

The only obviously posed picture, an action shot, is of a boy agilely run-leaping over the photographer and his camera, positioned on the ground at the point of calculated mid-leap, so that the young athlete is caught in mid-air, a confused jumble of skinny limbs and knees and elbows, framed against azure blue sky and cottony clouds.

One low-angle photo looks down a roadway—faintly demarcated by a few lines of vehicle tire tracks—over sandy, barren terrain. But no vehicle in sight, just a number of women walking along the road, in the direction away from the camera, with their babies. One little girl stepping valiantly alongside her mother, holding her hand, but each of the adult women with a baby on her back in a sling. (I’ve seen other photos by Brendan Bannon of Africans trudging down roadways. It seems to be a theme of his. The poverty and migration connection. Poverty as an essentially nomadic condition. There’s something to that. In the first world as well as the third world. As well as between the first world and the third.)

The sole vehicle in the Africa photos is a blurred image of what looks like a two-wheeled cart loaded with tree branches, pulled by some unrecognizable beast of burden. Several of the Africa photos are blurred in this way, by deliberate movement of the camera at the photographic instant, clearly it seems. Maybe as if to say, when it comes to viewing these images of third-world poverty, we get impatient. We’re in a hurry. We have other things on our mind, other issues to deal with. The things about which we’re holding national debate. Anti-immigration measures. Tax breaks for millionaires. Etc.

The spectacular lake horizon and some that look like Arctic tundra photos prioritize the stark geography secondary subject matter of the Africa photos. (Not so much merely implicit subject matter in the Africa photos as less explicit, because of the human interest primary matter, to which the stark geography acts as a foil that dramatizes and clarifies the human interest issues.)

Nature as it was before the human species, and will be after.

One of the geographical vista works is a photographic process artifact example. A distant landscape or seascape, largely obscured by a myriad spatter of out-of-focus hexagonals, seemingly a near-camera snow squall.

This is very beautiful work. It will remain on display through October 5.

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