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Three Photographers at CEPA Gallery

Robert Schulman's photos of industrial ruins are at CEPA through March 19.

In Camera

Robert Schulman’s superb photographs on exhibit at CEPA are largely of old industrial landscapes Photoshopped into intricate mosaics or cut-and-pasted into geometrical collages of structural ruins and rust.

The repetition of forms and images within a single work is thematic—sometimes by way of echoes on echoes, sometimes as mirror images, as in one work featuring a blocky-looking, minimalist, sculpture-like construction cut-and-pasted into back-to-back images. The resultant work has something of the heroic abstractionist quality of a Robert Motherwell painting.

The old industry reference in this piece is not so apparent. The photos are not exclusively on this main subject matter. Another cut-and-paste work features three different perspectives on three ranks (or perhaps the same rank) of suburban tract housing rooflines.

The signature industrial pieces feature a dense miscellany of multiple repetitions of ancient, rust-colored factory façades in intense dark hues and elaborate patterns reminiscent of an heirloom-quality carpet. Industrial efficiency and modernistic architectural form juxtapose with a romantic poetic sense based on the inherent nostalgic quality of ruins.

(Fifty years ago, in this neck of the world, there were no ruins. Ideas about ruins were about Europe, which had ruins for millennia. The Anglo-Saxons wrote about the ruins of the Romans, who were not around any more in Anglo-Saxon times. The work of giants, they thought. Now we have ruins, too, the work of giants.)

One non-collage photo shows a decrepit remnant of a small industrial building, just a couple of concrete walls and weathered frames of what once would have been glazed windows. Now you look right through the building, through the windows that are no more, in near wall and far wall, onto a field of dead brown grass and washed-out blue sky. It’s like a metaphor of painting as a metaphor of everything: the frame or frames in the foreground, which you see but at the same time see through, into further and further dimensions of the transitory, in nature and art, the world we don’t make and the world we do.

Another work of heroic sensibility shows a gargantuan façade of an industrial structure or perhaps a continuous row of structures in the background, in the foreground an enormous snow-covered, wind-swept urban open space, and small and obscure in the middle distance, a solitary human figure trudging across the open snowfield.

An outstanding non-industrial photo is of slabs of stone—marble or concrete, a wall and steps, perhaps—overlain with a delicate lacework of shadows of tree branches, some of the actual trees blurry in the background, and a patch of green lawn the only high-color contrast element to the grays and black of the stone and shadows and trees.

The Robert Schulman photos are in the second-floor corridor gallery. In the ground-floor gallery north is an exhibit by Mark McLoughlin consisting of a camera obscura looking out onto the Main Street scene, two zoetropes—drum-like contraptions with slots, and opposite each slot, inside the drum, an image slightly different from the next or previous image, so that when you spin the drum and look through the slots you see an early version of a motion picture—-and a number of framed pictures, each containing four images in vertical array of the sort you see in the zoetropes.

Sometimes the same images as in the zoetropes, but in any case similar, inasmuch as blurry, and each image not much different from the previous or next image in its series.

The idea of the exhibit seems to be about primitive or minimalist forms of motion picturing, including the blurry aspect. The camera obscura imagery is minimalist motion picturing, too. What the camera sees (other than the static buildings across the street) is an occasional passerby. (This is 600 block Main Street, daytime, remember.) And if you’re patient (and can handle the excitement), every 15 or 20 minutes or so, a passing train.

In the ground-floor gallery south are Bradley Phillips’ photography noir works. In dark shades and shadows typically they depict workplace interior scenes at first glance slightly disordered, then you notice protruding from behind a bookcase or beneath a desk a pair of shoes, with feet in them, and legs attached, the rest of the victim still invisible (for the moment) behind the bookcase or under the desk. What the…?

The Schulman, McLoughlin, and Phillips exhibits continue through March 19.

—jack foran

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