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Artists included in this juried exhibition demonstrate that photography is much more than a documentary medium. 

Tempting the Truth

"Fresh Works," the Virginia Society for the Photographic Arts' new juried exhibition, has taken over the front two galleries at 1708 this month. Primarily black-and-white photography with a few garnishes of color throughout, it is a surprisingly frugal, surprisingly furtive, feminine show.

The juror is Philip Brookman, the Corcoran Gallery's Senior Curator of Photography and Media Arts. The dark, gossamer quality generally shared by the works selected for this beautifully installed show effectively serves to clarify the ideological viewpoint of the juror. Brookman builds a strong platform through his jurying process to demonstrate the varied methods that modern photography uses to tempt and challenge truth.

Popular imagination tends to endow the photograph with the absolute power of documentary objectivity. If a photograph can be produced of an event or scene, it is Exhibit A, proof positive. However, Brookman and many of the artists whose work he favors enjoy the artifice of photography: the purposeful or chance depiction of reality with its many alternatives, deceits and misremembrances. Brookman calls this mechanism "the metaphorical portrayal." To Brookman, staging an artist-interpreted situation is the essence of contemporary photography.

One can understand the playfulness of this contrived theater by considering the amusingly poignant daguerreotype studies of Alyssa Salomon, or hunting out Eric Norbom's mouthwatering motor home: the tasty, spacey toned silver print "Egg Car." Less conclusive examples might be considered in Regula Franz's cool, clairvoyant digital print "Ferry from Georgetown" or Joseph Johnson's desolate "A Crossroads." In these shots, nothing about the physical layout of the scenery is altered. It is only the photographer's rarified perspective that undermines the reliability of the views. In Johnson's work, the subtle ruse is the angle with which the warning sign does not quite function in the same plane with the intersection it cautions against. In fact it does, but in fact it doesn't. Franz's rearview mirror is a surreal remark against the impending dimness of the limitless vista ahead.

There are also works that lead the viewer into feral and unpredictable places. Jay Paul's superabundant, seemingly abandoned "Evergreen Cemetery" and Rebecca Silberman's tangled, haunted backyard landscapes offer a prognostication of uncertain hazard and unfriendly presences.

Not all of the photographs in "Fresh Works" are elusive. A few are straightforward portraits. Beverly Miller Jackson's character study "Mr. Mitchell," Taylor Dabney's "Addie Hill Shelton," Donna Connell's "Leona's Granddaughter" and Vernall Flood's "Untitled" are earnest, riveting portrayals of resolute individuals.

"Fresh Works" is a strong, cohesive grouping of new photographic images by some inventive and talented artists. If it has a flaw, it is only that it concluded too soon. Certainly there is room for more.

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