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An antiquated form of photography is paid homage to, but not experimented with, at Plant Zero.

At Plant Zero, "Art of Bromoil" celebrates the form by including samples from its heyday and from its current resurgence. The older examples here establish a tradition of formal and thematic restraint. Clearly the more contemporary versions of the art form are products of freer manipulation in both regards.

If the exhibit is any indication, many artists are reviving the medium not only because of its versatility, but also as a means for channeling the past. Scenes of the historic or picturesque (landscapes with vernacular architecture especially) pop up repeatedly, colored in emotion ranging from nostalgic to sappy. Artists in this group are clearly pushing any associations to the period in which the medium first flourished.

Conventional landscapes are popular in the show, and several express a distinct character of place without a yearning for what was. Hawaiian artist Ernie Theisen contributed an exquisite composition of tones and detail in an image of an adobe structure in "Ladders," as did Maine artist Eliza Massey in a quiet, small-town snow scene. Siegfried Utzig's "Pacific Coast" and "The Beacon" feature picturesque scenes of dramatic coastlines, but the artist's eyes seem focused on the visual qualities of volume, lights, darks and texture rather than on any longing the scene might evoke.

It's Utzig's third image that exhibits the most exciting use of bromoil — a use that steps forward rather than backward. In "Fly Me to the Moon," he shoots the image of a long escalator, maybe in a train or subway station, connecting the underground to a platform far above, where a blurred figure and the night sky are visible. The scene is of the moment, capturing dramatic conditions of space and time. Utzig's smart use of the medium de-emphasizes edges and saturates the image with diffused light.

Similarly, Larry Shapiro's abandoned parking deck in "Parking Structure," also shot at night, finds strange beauty in a convoluted architectural space. Shapiro represents a dynamic spatial relationship between planes of concrete and contrasts them with attenuated light poles and the flowerlike bursts of light emitted from the top of them. Shapiro masterfully milks this scene for every ounce of its visual richness, creating an unexpectedly vibrant representation of the banal and an engaging composition leaning toward the abstract. S

"Art of Bromoil" runs through Nov. 27 at Plant Zero, 0 E. Fourth St. Call 726-4442.


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