Focusing on the ins and outs

Flea markets and porches provide setting

“Oak Bluffs, MA’’ is one of Fred Sway’s photos of porches. “Oak Bluffs, MA’’ is one of Fred Sway’s photos of porches.
By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / September 18, 2010

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WINCHESTER — The world’s largest assembly of antiques sellers is Paris’s Marché aux Puces, the Flea Market. Of course, there are fleas — and then there are fleas. It must be said that the rooms and displays seen in Christopher Rauschenberg’s 21 large color photographs (they’re 2 feet by 3 feet) are pretty tony looking. There’s nothing dark or musty or junky about the mirrors, frames, furniture, statuary, and various bric-a-brac lovingly rendered by Rauschenberg. Clearly, he’s the one you want to do the catalog when you have your estate sale.

“Marché aux Puces: Photographs by Christopher Rauschenberg’’ runs at the Griffin Museum of Photography through Nov. 7. In a charming fillip, the show includes several items from Winchester’s Lion’s Head Antiques & Collectibles.

The Surrealists loved flea markets for the opportunities they offered for incongruous juxtaposition. There’s almost nothing surreal about Rauschenberg’s images. Is it his sensibility? The nature of the displays? The luck of the draw? Who can say. The displays here have a sense of rightness to them rather than an air of oddity. Everything belongs. The sole exception — admittedly, it’s a whopper — is a room with what looks like an Apollo astronaut’s spacesuit, complete with helmet and visor. There’s a white, plastic biomorphic chair, too. Who knew Alphaville had antiques shops.

The collections and rooms Rauschenberg has photographed, like the photographs themselves, have an inviting quality. These are not objects you might necessarily want to own (even if you had the space). Certainly, though, they are ones to appreciate and savor. Underscoring that sense of an invitation is the fact that the only people we see are two-dimensional, on canvas or ceramic, like the woman in a painting who peeks out over a set of light sconces (they go for 160 euros — kind of pricey). There’s no one to intrude on the viewer’s sense of privacy.

Strangely, neither are there any people visible in Fred Sway’s “Porch Light.’’ The strangeness comes from the fact that porches, besides being about ventilation and shade and architectural variety, are also about society. The first home theater, they were like a box at the opera house, with the viewers’ attention directed to sidewalk and street as substitute for stage. The one complaint to register about Sway’s 20 color photographs is that they include no views looking out from a porch. That was a role the porch very much played in the pre-television era, back when people looked through screens rather than at them.

Where Rauschenberg presents a world of interiors, Sway takes us outside — but not too far. Part of the appeal of porches is that they’re a kind of borderland, not quite indoors, not quite out. They are the outdoors domesticated, and indoors opened up. Nicely timed, this is definitely an end-of-summer show. There are no icy or leaf-strewn steps to be seen.

Sway, a former director of the New England School of Photography, retired two years ago as head of photo services at Boston University. In high school, Sway moved with his family from an apartment to a house with a screened-in porch and lush garden. Begun last year, his “Porch Light’’ series owes something to “those memories of another time and place,’’ as Sway puts it.

“Porch light’’ usually means an electric light fixed to a porch ceiling or wall. “It’s getting dark out here. Turn on the porch light.’’ Here it refers to natural light illuminating porches — and not just them. We get a bit of terrace here, a nicely planted corner of yard there, a deck.

No stickler, Sway is as interested in furnishings as setting. He presents accoutrements both artificial (planters, chairs, garden hoses) and natural (the plants in the planters, vines, and other plantings). The finest sight is a magnificent beech, from Santa Rosa, Calif. The most peculiar is a life-size color cutout of Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz.’’ Toto, we’re not in Kansas, anymore? Austin, Texas, actually.

Mark Feeney can be reached at

MARCHÉ AUX PUCES: Photographs by Christopher Rauschenberg PORCH LIGHT: Photographs by Fred Sway At: Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Road,

Winchester, through Nov. 7