‘From the Shadows’ photography show at UMMA

Posted Dec. 16, 2013, at 6:14 p.m.
Ed's Barn
Ed's Barn

Monday, December 16 to Saturday, January 4, 2014; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Location: University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., Bangor, ME

Contact: ;

BANGOR, Maine — “From the Shadows,” a photography show currently at the University of Maine Museum of Art, features the work of two artists, Susan Burnstine and Lynn Saville. University of Maine Musueum of Art  curator George Kinghorn discovered this pair while jurying a national exhibition in Texas. It will be on display through Jan. 4, 2014.

 Burnstine’s and Saville’s pictures share a certain look. Both photographers use black and white and produce on a modest scale. Both gravitate toward the dark and the eerie. If you glance quickly, these might seem like the photographs of one person. On further examination, though, the similarities dissolve into differences.

 With the advent of smart phones, we all have digital cameras that take nice, sharp pictures. Susan Burnstine works with film and handmade cameras that are second cousins to the plastic Kodak Brownie of the 1950’s. She eschews the sharp lens with its perfect HD results and in so doing achieves something that is both poignant and unique. Her hand-varnished prints are almost uniformly blurred, odd, hovering conglomerates of images. As they deny the viewer’s 20-20 vision, they acquire a psychological power that is at once haunting and sublimely disturbing.

 “Whirlwind” features a tilted carousel that suggests the dark and suspenseful genre of film noir. “In the Midst” finds urban ice skaters gliding beneath skyscrapers and trees that diffuse in the mist. The skaters are mere smudges, with one slightly more focused central figure caught in a balletic pose.

 “Road Most Traveled” presents us with a strong, fuzzy dog on a rapidly disappearing road loaded with atmosphere. Though stunningly beautiful, “As Above, So Below” offers an apocalyptic vision of a city suffering atomic disintegration.

 In “Through the Cracks,” an L-train passes by an electro-geometric urban dream/nightmare. Another train is pitted against a roller coaster in “The Beginning of the End.” “Griffith Park” is an extraterrestrial Cyclops’s view of an urban environment. The oddball of the show, “At the Edge of Darkness,” is uniquely less foreboding, with an appealing composition divided by cables in the foreground.

 Nothing in Burnstine’s work is sharply focused. The lenses distort and contort, rendering the familiar unfamiliar. But it is this very unfamiliarity which makes these photographs consistently powerful and mysterious.

 Lynn Saville, working with high quality lenses, also embraces darkness but has a specific aesthetic intention that commands: “Look here, please.” Many of her pieces are organized around the interplay between two lights. “Ed’s Barn, Vermont 1989” suggests a relationship between a moon (or is it a UFO?) and twin window lights in a building. “West Charleston, Vermont 1990” features an ethereal light that mysteriously emanates from and leads to its source.

 “Palace Royal, Paris 1999” is a fine composition that contains one attention-grabbing street lamp. It begs the question: is this light helpful or too distracting? Whatever the answer, it certainly controls the whole feeling of the photograph.

In “Red Hook Ducks, Brooklyn 1996,” there is again an interplay between the two light ducks in the foreground and a distant urban light. The background industrial plant, probably the center of attention in the daylight, becomes a subtle foil for the duck-vs.-city light relationship at night. This is a very strong composition with a wonderful moodiness of environmental nightmare. “Staten Island Ferry” leaves me breathless, as does “Awnings and Lights, Rialto Bridge,Venice 2001”, with its uniquely diffused light.

Saville’s work features consistently organized compositions, whether they are blurred (“5th Avenue Rain, 1995”) or sharp (“The Flatiron Building, 1992”). Some are quite eerie, all very beautiful. Curator Kinghorn did well in pairing up these two most interesting and complementary artists.