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Photographic Memory

"Still Action" at 1708 Gallery embraces the little mistakes.

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The current photography exhibition at 1708 Gallery, "Still Action" explores "purely visual, purely photographic reality" specific to the scene in which [the photographers] are participating. Pictured here, Kevin Van Aelst's "And All I Ask Is a Tall Ship and a Star to Sail Her By".
  • The current photography exhibition at 1708 Gallery, "Still Action" explores "purely visual, purely photographic reality" specific to the scene in which [the photographers] are participating. Pictured here, Kevin Van Aelst's "And All I Ask Is a Tall Ship and a Star to Sail Her By".

When it comes to the revolution happening in photography, in many ways it's back to the future. The new show at 1708 Gallery, "Still Action" is not, by its curators' admissions, the same show it would have been eight years ago.

That's when Travis Fullerton, just out of Virginia Commonwealth University graduate school, originally proposed the show to co-curator Paul Thulin. "Our basic premise was," Fullerton says: "How do we find photographers whose final work is nothing like the process is?"

"In every instance it's the artist's action as well as time," co-curator Fullerton says, "which is inherently embedded in photography, working together."

Seba Kurtis' two pieces in the show fit the bill. Concerned with the plight of illegal immigrants, he photographed the shoreline where they arrived and the areas where they worked construction. He then tossed the film into the sea. What washed back up on shore he developed, subsequently finding that parts of the images had been erased by water damage. Kurtis saw the absence of the image as symbolic of the subject matter, people who come here to work but have no official presence.

"In traditional photography, a development problem like [wet film] would have been a mistake," Thulin says. "But photography has diversified enough that artists are more comfortable exploring the materiality of photography and how it relates to representation. They're willing to let the material loose and see what it can do."

Tokihiro Sato has three pieces in the show, none of which reflects the process involved in bringing them forth. "If you came upon Sato in the woods," Fullerton says, "you'd see a camera on a tripod and a man walking around a tree, with a little mirror aimed at the camera. It's not at all what results." What come out are exquisite gelatin-silver prints showing massive trees surrounded by what appear to be twinkling flashes of light. It's almost as if a colony of fairies is flitting around a forest.

Likewise, Sharon Harper's photographs play mind games with the viewer. "We know in our minds that star scratches exist," Thulin says. "By compressing this visual phenomena and repeating them, she's essentially drawing. It's the same realm as drawing lines, but with a camera. If you saw these photographers when they're shooting, you'd have no clue what they're doing. What they're seeing is not what's translated in the end."

It's clear from the nature of the six-artist, 15-piece show that it's a different beast than it would have been eight years ago. "The benefit of it happening at this time is it's now OK for some aspects of photography to be about photography again," Fullerton says. "People have a heightened awareness of what photography is."

Thulin agrees. "Most of the artists are very secure in saying that they are influenced by sculpture, drawing, performance," he says. "They can relate to other practices and openly mix them. We wanted to open this show up to what photography could be. It may not be what people expect going in, so they're trying to figure out how it all works together. What's present in the photograph isn't the only thing. That's why it's interesting." S

"Still Action" continues through May 25 at 1708 Gallery, 319 W. Broad St. For information call 643-1708 or go to 1708gallery.org.

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