Cars, candy, and China
Photographers find beauty in new, old, and the familiar
Robert Frank’s 1956 “Covered Car’’ is one of the totemic American photographs of the last century. The automobile in question, flanked by palm trees, looks utterly alien: like an Egyptian mummy with a V-8 inside, and in Long Beach, no less. The beauty of Andrew M.K. Warren’s “Car Pictures,’’ one of three shows at the Griffin Museum of Photography that run through Aug. 29, is how familiar the several covered cars in it look — strange, yes, but definitely familiar. Totems? They’re eyesores, and proud of it. And the ones that aren’t covered, ought to be. There’s nothing vintage about a clunker.
At least one of the 16 photographs, “VW Bug in Snow, Putney, VT’’ is startlingly beautiful, even poetic. “Blue Chevy, Dedham, MA’’ is peekaboo funny. “Car in Water, Andover, MA’’ is also funny, as well as odd and a bit unsettling. Seeking “evidence of automotive entropy,’’ as he writes, Warren responds to the derelict and near-derelict vehicles he encounters with respect, affection, and dismay. On the used-car lot of life, he’s the guy with a camera in his hand and wistful look on his face.
Andrea Rosenthal’s “Stations of the Scale’’ combines image and text with a bond as inextricable as that between hunger and satiety. Its eight photographs are a visual “memoir’’ (her word) of overeating. They’re playful and witty and not a little sad.
“Jellybeans,’’ for example, shows just what you think it does. The caption reads, “No jellybeans were harmed in the making of this exhibit.’’ Then, in smaller type, “Well, maybe a few.’’ The caption for “Reading’’ is, “I like anything that starts with ‘c,’ such as cheese, candy, or cookies, preferably read while reading.’’ New line. “I love reading.’’ The accompanying photograph shows a scattering of Dots, an empty Dots box, an empty M&Ms box, and a paperback book on a bed. What really makes the photo is the spill of light, as from a reading lamp, in the upper-right corner. Heaven above, hell below?
The Griffin’s 16th juried exhibition includes the work of 33 photographers. There are quite a few pictures of children and adolescents. Other than that, it’s impossible to generalize. Kimberly Witham’s “Drifting Chipmunk’’ has one of the two best titles. The other is Bridget Lanigan’s “Mom With Zucchini.’’ The zucchini is extremely big. What gets your attention, though, is mom’s stern stare. Rylan Steele’s “Office’’ and “Painting Booth’’ combine emphatic colors (that splash of red in “Painting Booth’’!) and a beckoning blankness. Clint Baclawski’s two images are in double-sided light boxes, “Exodus’’ and “New England Sport III.’’ The latter, which shows the floor of the New England Boat Show awash in signage, is wonderful. More important, it uses size to terrific effect.
Andy Ryan’s 13 black-and-white photographs of building projects in Beijing is at the Griffin Museum’s satellite gallery, at Digital Silver Imaging, in Belmont, through Sept. 10. He focuses on the Grand National Theater, Linked Hybrid complex, and Beijing National Stadium — the “Bird’s Nest,’’ as announcers liked to call it during the 2008 Olympics.
For so long, Westerners considered China the Mysterious East. Ryan presents it as something equally foreign, though far more interesting, the Gleaming Future. We see an unnaturalness so consistently maintained as to seem utterly natural. Any vegetation shown is either glimpsed from afar or dwarfed by man-made structures. Saplings surrounded by a series of towers look artificial, not the towers. These buildings are in another country? Another planet — another century — is more like it.
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.