Friday, October 5, 2012

Felicia Feaster reviews show for AJC

Atlanta gallery showcases Southern women’s photos
By Felicia Feaster 

Judy Lampert, Barn in Bainbridge 2, Bainbridge, GA, 2012,
Pigment Inkjet print on archival paper

The three photographers in “Southern Women — Southern Photographers” at Spruill Gallery are fixtures on the Atlanta art scene. Corinne Adams, Lucinda Bunnen and Judy Lampert have been around long enough to have played their part in shaping the city’s photographic image bank. But in many ways these three women have gone further than that, and even helped make Atlanta the photo-centric place it is.

Bunnen is a cheerleader, both financially and philosophically, for photography in Atlanta. Adams was one of the three co-founders of the annual Atlanta Celebrates Photography event each October, which has done much to raise the profile of photography locally. Lampert has made her own mark serving on the boards of many area arts organizations, including “Art Papers” magazine and Atlanta Celebrates Photography.

The emphasis on “Southern” in the show’s title makes you crane your neck for shared regional features in these photographers’ work. Southerners have long been defined by their love of history and the past, and Lampert certainly delivers on that front. Her appealingly plainspoken color portraits of the well-worn buildings — farms, apartment blocks, small-town businesses and ramshackle barns — that dot the Southern landscape are like pictures of familiar friends. Take a drive out into the rural communities that ring Atlanta and you will inevitably encounter one of the decaying barns Lampert photographs, whose weather-stripped wood has turned the color of Spanish moss, and whose rusted roof is the hue of dried blood.

Lampert captures not only those rural icons, but also the similar obsolescence of Southern downtowns and even Atlanta’s architectural turnover — as in her portrait of a “Gray House on Irwin Street” whose windows have been boarded up and whose sad appearance suggests a dog tied up in the backyard, neglected and forgotten. Shot from the middle distance with just a snippet of their surroundings, the houses and businesses Lampert documents take on something close to a personality not unlike portraits of animate subjects.

Lampert measures time’s passage — the march of decades — in a building’s decay. That concept of chronology is echoed in Bunnen’s photographs, which capture nature’s continuous molting. As in Lampert’s work, there is a touch of melancholy in Bunnen’s chronicle of the withered blossoms that mark a season’s end on a Southern pond.

Bunnen has been documenting the gradations of life and death on the surface of Hatcher’s Pond in Tiger, Ga., since 2008, says the show’s curator, Tania Becker. In “Southern Women,” Bunnen focuses on the sad, bending stalks of lotus flowers whose beauty has dissipated, leaving only deflated brown husks behind with the look of crumpled party dresses.

Adams makes her own effort to trap the beauty of the natural world under glass in her series of moody and, like Bunnen’s work, exceedingly romantic photographs of seed pods, flowers and eggs. Adams takes various presentational tacks in photographing nature. Her smaller “Flower Dreams” images in the 9-by-12-inch range, present a variety of blossoms against a black backdrop to highlight their flamboyant prettiness.

Large-scale photographs of “Lilies” and fragile white petals in “Floating Tulip” tend to pale next to the scientific, antiquated look of Adams’ more arresting images mounted on wood — a lovely series of seed pod studies. The images are coated in a thick shellac of varnish, which gives the photographs the look of pages in an aged and yellowed botanical book. In these works, rather than highlighting the beauty pageant winners of the natural world, Adams focuses on a litany of almost extraterrestrial shapes. These striking photographs highlight the fascinatingly odd forms that exist in nature. These pods show that form is clearly Adams’ obsession — a trait she shares with her companions in “Southern Women.”

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