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In Black and White

Fan Abstraction
In Black And White
Photographic abstractions at Nina Freudenheim Gallery

Uncanny camera work, you think, looking at the works of Amanda Means currently on view at the Nina Freudenheim Gallery. Then you find out she doesn’t use a camera.


The show is called On Forms and Forces, and consists of large-format photographic works—somehow—of two basic categories of subject matter, organic and inorganic. The organics are leaves—tree leaves, plant leaves, ferns—in exquisite enlargement detail. You see cells. You see cell nuclei. You see vascular patterns like river systems on satellite maps of continents, only more orderly, more purposeful, more efficient. The inorganic works are harder to describe. Abstract for one thing, in organization a little like Venetian blinds. Contrasting horizontal slats that sometimes look like they have been surgically joined, but probably aren’t. Probably what looks like surgical joining is just scoring between the slats with a surgical knife of some sort. But then it’s hard to see just how they are conjoined, the contrasting slats, contrasting as to imagery and gray-scale. Playing with and against the basic horizontality theme in a variety of ways.

According to a press release for the exhibit, the photography is accomplished by a unique camera-less technique. In the case of the leaves works, it describes a process similar to that for creating photograms, in which the artist shines a light from the photographic enlarger through the subject matter leaf. In making the abstractions—also in the darkroom and without a camera—she might first manipulate the surface of the photographic paper by scoring, folding, or crushing—rolling the paper into a tube, then flattening the tube—before exposing the paper under the enlarging light, using a variety of different light filters. Further manipulations as the paper is placed into the developer liquid. And as the artist pulls the paper out of the developer tray, developer liquid drips and runs down the paper, creating vertical rivulets along the horizontal slats--pretty much the sum and substance of the imagery, in addition to the contrasting gray scales from slat to slat.

Play with and against the basic horizontality theme in that sometimes the folds or scores, and sometimes the gray scale contrasts also, are vertical as well as horizontal. And sometimes—in addition—oblique. Plaid and argyle patterns.

The leaves works look like photo negatives, the effect of which—the reversal of black and white values—in addition to the substantial enlargement aspect of these works—is to enhance black and white contrasts, and thus vividness of the intimate and intricate detail. These works thus plead their own cause.

More problematic in the case of the abstract works, lacking representational content foothold or handhold. (The title of each of the abstract works is Fan Abstraction, plus a number to individualize. But it is hard to see the fan reference as explanatory in any significant or satisfactory way. Hard to see the imagery as particularly fan-like.) The subject matter—if there is subject matter—seems to be about grids, elements of orderliness and control, and intrusion of chance, unpredictability—how liquids flow—into the grids picture. And about play with the elements of photography. Light and light-sensitive paper, developer chemicals. Play with the process. The thrill of discovery of what the process produces. Controlled and uncontrolled.

The Amanda Means exhibit continues through October 28.

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