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Strongly directional light explored in Andrews photographs




Wiesner Gallery, Student Center,

through Friday, April 7.

Sponsored by the MIT Council for the Arts.


WHEN REVIEWING AN exhibition of photography, the writer struggles between commenting strictly on the individual pictures and treating the show as a photo essay in three dimensions. Although Christopher Andrews '89 told me that he didn't intend to have an obvious unifying theme behind the images in this exhibit, the picture at the entrance -- an obliquely-lit, heavily carved chair back -- sets the tone. This is an exhibit of pictures about the interplay between strongly directional light and surfaces. The light in the opening picture is made almost tangible; the viewer can almost believe that it is the light itself that has cut away the wood.

Hung together are a group of photographs in which shadows play the central role. An especially striking example is "Vital Science," in which shadows of a group of figures radiate from their unseen feet. Hung essentially upside-down, this photo induces a particular tension -- it is hard to imagine oneself in the space of this scene in a way that fully satisfies one's sense of equilibrium. A more ethereal light producing less-defined shadows suffuses a depiction of a workbench scattered with dusty hand tools. Ordinary, unglamorous kelp is shot lovingly like a bunch of dried sea-lavender.

Light creates a transfiguration of a similar sort in another group of four pictures titled the "Industrial Art" series. Sepia toning is here applied to good effect, lending the prints a topically-appropriate "rusty" feel. But a possibly unintentional ambiguity is at work: the pictures along the top row (rectilinear girders, a winch) clearly depict man-made objects, but the two at the bottom might be of natural origin. A gathering of mottled pipes could instead be the trunks of a grove of young birch trees, while plastic telephone conduits oddly resemble the calcareous @#this is a real word! wow!--debby remains of long-dead sea animals.

In a photograph elsewhere, a young boy facing a burying ground waves his arms magically, seeming to command some sort of metamorphosis. In this context, the headstones cannot hold their macabre associations. This boy might be interpreted as Andrews himself, in which case, a material alteration of the scene is not needed; rather, he wants the viewer's eye (with the assistance of the magical power of horizontal light) to see differently.

An unfortunate spot in this show is a self-portrait shot in a mirror. Aiming at an interesting angle, Andrews commits his vision to a print which seems the result of a combination of underexposure and sepia-toning gone awry, with muddied mid-tones, and a severely restricted dynamic range. The subtlety, perhaps, is the point. But among the crisp, clear tonalities of the surrounding photographs, this one looks a little out-of-place. The light falling upon a figure is much better captured on a portrait of Peter Dunn G, whose wrinkled white shirt takes on a chiseled quality. By far the best portrait is "Rose Bernstein, Cliff Island 1988," a wistful, elderly woman with an almost Native-American profile.

Y:60, M:30, C:0, a group of color photographs by Jean Marie Hernandez '89 is on display simultaneously with this show. Named after a filter setting on a color enlarger, this collection of technically-good pictures largely of Chinatown shows few surprises. Notable, however, is a shot in which a Pontiac fascinatingly peeks out over a pile of cargo containers like a cat stalking a mouse.