Neal Guma gallery assembles a striking group show

Holly Andres is known for using multiple images to tell a story, such as  in "The Fallen Fawn" series. Photo courtesy Neal Guma Holly Andres is known for using multiple images to tell a story, such as in “The Fallen Fawn” series. Photo courtesy Neal Guma

With just five photographs on view, Neal Guma has assembled a richly satisfying show featuring some of the most interesting photographers working today at his new, eponymously named gallery on Third Street. While different in terms of style, approach and subject matter, the work is linked by a sense of mystery, foreboding and even danger.

Julie Blackmon’s “Rope Swing” in the window has been attracting a lot of attention, according to Guma. The image presents a backyard scene of children playing. Like a spy from the land of grown-ups, Blackmon captured a moment when the adults are absent and children are running the show. At the center of the image, a girl of about 8 is caught by Blackmon as she shimmies impossibly high up a rope. Danger is conveyed not only by how high off the ground she is, but also with the tangled hair and skimpy attire of her companions.

“Blackmon’s photographs really take you back to a time when kids were freer, less organized,” says Guma. “A big influence on her is the Dutch 17th century painter Jan Steen who painted many family scenes with kids and animals everywhere. There’s a sense of absolute chaos and that’s what Blackmon loves and yet, at the same time, her work’s so well composed. It’s a brilliant edge.”

Holly Andres is known for using multiple images to tell a story. “River Road: Mile Marker 39” from “The Fallen Fawn” series is pleasing from both a formal and descriptive standpoint. The autumnal palette, shape of the car windows and roof line, and the way the girls are dressed and styled, all work together to impart a nostalgic ’60s quality to the work. Reflections and shadows play on the windows, adding pattern and texture that both draws attention to and shields the girls. The image is loaded with suspense.

Andres melds two entirely different trajectories in “River Road.” It’s almost like there are two photographs contained within it: The winsome, romantic girls and the forceful abstract diagonals that frame them make for a highly unusual and compelling image.

Though not a photographer, Julie Cockburn works with discarded photographs. She painstakingly embroiders these with precisely stitched shapes that she uses to draw attention to the psychological undertones lurking beneath the surface of the vintage formal studio shots she favors.

“Carita” is embellished with pastel-colored circles that trail across the image like an effervescence of bubbles that almost completely obscures Carita’s face. The exception is her eye, which stares out with such haunting soulfulness, it stops you in your tracks.

The clues we have to “Carita” are few, but the softly coiffed curls, pearls at her throat and the lustrous sheen of the soft bow on her dress convey a certain refinement. And then there is the kicker, the inscription: “To my darling a teacher, Aurora…” which throws a big pot of doubt and suspicion onto the image. While this could be entirely innocent, Cockburn’s manipulation of the piece invites a different, much darker interpretation, causing you to wonder about the nature of the relationship of teacher and student.

“What makes his work is the play between the flatness and the detail,” says Guma about German photographer Markus Brunetti’s “Wells Cathedral Church of Saint Andrews.” The photograph is one from a series of European sacred structures Brunetti and his partner, Betty Schoener, photographed over the course of 10 years. Brunetti shot each building in multiple sections, which Schoener then painstakingly assembled to form a composite. The result has more clarity than a traditional camera could capture, or the naked eye could see.

With an equal field of focus, everything is incredibly distinct: the saints’ faces, their hair, the live pigeons roosting in the edifice’s crannies, the lichen, weathered wooden doors and strip of brilliant green at the base, and they all work to animate and revitalize an iconic image to which we have almost become blind.

Lois Conner is known for her photographs of China, where she has spent many years taking pictures. Her long, narrow proportions, specific to the camera she uses, recall a Chinese screen. “Atchafalaya Swamp, Louisiana,” dating to 1988, is the only black-and-white image. A masterful technician, Conner’s tonalities are ravishing.

At times you wonder whether you’re even looking at a photograph; it’s more like graphite on paper. The pops of white that are the fruit at the center of the bush and the abandoned rowboat that seems to float above the ground in otherworldly fashion are extraordinary. With consummate craftsmanship and enormous sensitivity, Conner has created an image that’s mysterious, evocative and timeless.

“Putting together a group show like this is kind of like making a playlist,” says Guma. “You like every song, but you want the whole thing to work together. And it sort of takes on this theme. There are connections, and some of them you don’t foresee, but when they happen it’s magic.”

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