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Photographs by John Pfahl and Jonathan Lewis at Nina Freudenheim Gallery

John Pfahl's photograph of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.
Jonathan Lewis's photogrpah of a Versace boutique.

’Shop Til We Drop

Digital photography gets a calculated frisson of fractal nuance from megapixel technology in the handsome color landscapes of John Pfahl. Altering his photo’s picture plane by computer-editing the incremental enlargement of specific portions of the photographic image, Pfahl redirects the viewer’s reference to the physicality of the picture—the thin envelope of tissue that is the photograph in a structural paradox between the chemical and physical order of the art-form.

Whereas the technical side of this statement is simple—photography is nothing more than a means for automatically producing pictures in perfect perspective—the aesthetic side is more complex, and is meaningful only in historical terms, the now familiar sense of art’s history as an irreversible trend from tactile to visual intuitions, from knowing to seeing.

A photographic image is implicitly the product of three fundamental choices, choosing the subject, the moment at which to represent the subject, and the scope of view, establishing the edges of the picture, the measured stage, determining the basic composition. The artist’s photographic pictorial arsenal currently include a wide range and variety of approaches, techniques and aesthetics that characterize image making since the 1970s, when color photography especially was seen as largely confined to advertizing products and amateur snap shots.

The photographic image is often thought of in terms of “drawing,” especially in black and white, relative to the well established vectors of perspective, its comforting certainties, the line of sight of contrasting trees, the shimmer on wave crests, the buildings in cast shadow creating the effect of structural mass, all easily reinforced by empirical reality. In color a photo comes closer to a painted space through a combination of light, tonality, contrast, and a sense of presence adding a greater measure of intensity, intimating solidity, clarity, resolution of form, volumes located in a specific space, again further greatly reinforced by what we see around us in color.

So what is the point of messing with the picture so that a selected portion is taken out of the image, cubically interpolated, morphed back into squares of broken content disturbing the continuity of the image? Is it a game? Find the pixilated strata? Once found, what is the significance? What does it add pictographically? Is it operating on a more conceptual basis—say, a visual metaphor for the eventual decay of every scene depicted?

The picture in its alteration suggests graphic decomposition, incrementally deconstructing the image. But beyond creating a selective disconnect in the integrity of the image, what is the point? It is as if intentionally pulling certain threads from a silk kimono one interrupts the weave, meaningfully spoiling the design.

Jonathan Lewis is working in what might be called the “full monte” version of photographic digital edit imaging. A London-based artist, Lewis has trained his lenses on the storefronts of high-end fashion boutiques and the high-wattage interiors of low-end big box discount emporiums. In image after image, garishly colored rectangles are stacked up like boxes of product lining super-lit avenues of overabundance, while the glassed-in facades of haute couture are transformed into stylized, fractal mosaics.

The show of work by Pfahl and Lewis, aptly titled Mosaico, continues through February 22.

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