Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

 Through April 12 at the Ellipse Arts Center (4350 N Fairfax Dr., Suite 125, Arlington). Gallery Hours: Wednesday though Friday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. 703-228-7710 or see www.arlingtonarts.org/ellipseartscenter.htm.

The annual open call juried photo show is up at the Ellipse Arts Center. This must be around the seven millionth time this show has been held. I can recall when it was held in the old Kahn's department store shopping center. It's been so many years ago I can't even remember which now-demolished building it was in. As far as D.C. area art shows go, this one seems the longest running of all. If not, it's certainly in the running as such.

There is something to be said for that longevity. For one, essentially everybody on the local photo scene knows about it, and enters it. Submissions are normally accepted for only a few hours on one specific day, and even so 263 photographers managed to show up with 711 examples of their work in hand this year.

Acceptance into this show is no sure thing, no matter how accomplished the photographer may be. It seems every year you hear some veteran shooter grumbling about not getting in. Ah, the whims of judges, you never know what they'll do when it comes down to selection time. This year, just over 200 of those submitting were sent packing. Of the remaining 63, only seven photographers managed to get two images in the show.

David Griffin, Director of Photography at National Geographic Magazine, served as juror this year. National Geographic photographers are notoriously heavy shooters. A single story may be the final result of literally thousands of images taken. It would by extension follow that editors there would be highly adept at the selection process. The overall high quality of this show bears witness to Griffin's editorial skill.

What is striking here is the seeming lack of introspective work with deep psychological connotations. After the fact, it's impossible for an outside observer to say if this was a function of the work submitted, or the man selecting them. One can imagine the high art types sniffing at the National Geographic connection, figuring that they weren't going to fit in, and simply not bothering to submit any work at all. Similarly, you could see the juror being naturally inclined towards more accessible photojournalistic type work.

In either case, the work selected is quite nice. Typical photo shows of this sort feature a profusion of dead-center, dull compositions. This show is anything but. Here we see lively off-center compositions and a distinct preference towards movement in general. Bravo!

In many ways photographers are time bandits, grabbing tiny slices of time measured in hundredths of a second. As such the camera can capture movement and freeze it for our prolonged perusal and examination. This inhuman feat is often where photography really comes into its own. What we miss in the moment can be absorbed and appreciated after the fact in these two dimensional depictions.

“Nail Factory, Wheeling, W.V.” by Colin Winterbottom is one of three images selected for the $500 jurors' choice awards. Here we see a room full of nail manufacturing machinery furiously spinning away in a menacingly blurred whirl. Min Enghauser's “By the Light of the Moon Number Two” is a muted-color-palette, nocturnal seaside photo that reminds one of Rothco's abstract paintings. “Morocco Number Two” by Frank Lavelle rounds out the jurors' top three picks.

Angela Costanzo provided one of two images purchased by Arlington County for their small works collection. Her color photo titled “Isabella” shows a young child coming down a playground slide. It's a complex image of a simple act. The child's face is cropped in such a way that it's viewed as a generic child at play. The raw stainless steel tube provides a playful abstract of blues and greens in its warped reflections. The sun just catches the shoulder of the red shirt and sets it off at full intensity against the cool metallic surroundings. As photos go, this sort of thing is notoriously difficult to nail this well. You either luck into it, or burn up immense amounts of time and energy trying to get things just right. Of course your shooting opportunities only last as long as the kids are willing to go for another trip down the slide.

Gerald Merna also used the playground as subject matter. His two images from the “Can't Play Now” series depict playground equipment in motion, but this time sans people. Using only the motion of the gear itself to provide a sense of play in this black and white work.

One of my favorite images is the color photo of a flat, rusted tin can on white field by David Scavone. The Irving Penn penchant for shooting objects as artifacts in visually sterile white environments devoid of context has been done more than a few times before. But some images, such as this one, come to life with this sort of treatment. A rusted can never looked so good, richly textured and vibrantly color in all its rusted glory. It's a simple, and simply pleasing, image to gaze at.

If I had to pick one, it would probably be the can, or the black and white image by David Klavitter titled “Tern, Midway Atoll.” Here we see an amazing photo of a tern in flight. The two wings show differing angles of attack that imply an aerial turn or adjustment of some sort. The Bird stares us straight in the eye. Its beak nearly tack sharp, and its wig tips blurred out to nothing as it flaps away to stay aloft. As photos of the moment go, this one is quite amazing. In a show heavy with black and white work, this is one of only 11 Silver Gelatin Prints. The computer has won, but color has not.

Other photos of note were Lara Fahey' bathroom bathing scene, shot at ground level, and Chris Christy's dock side image of boat hulls and their reflections at the waterline.

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