Photographers transform the everyday into the extraordinary. 

Unexpected Beauty

Several of the photographers in the current "5 x 5" show at Corporate and Museum Frame speak of the camera's ability to elevate the commonplace, the everyday, the mundane. Indeed, one of the first assignments given in my basic photography class was to shoot an entire roll of things that are overlooked or not typically recorded. Students returned with photographs of cracks in walls, weeds, graffiti and even a dog "doing his business." The film "American Beauty" celebrated mundane-ness in its focus on middle-class monotony, suburbia and windblown plastic bags. Why have we become so interested in the quotidian?

A partial explanation must derive from the mechanism of the camera itself, in its unique ability to take in everything without filtering the unnecessary and mediocre. Because photographers' subject matter comes from visual reality rather than their imagination, they must work harder to find beauty and art in the onslaught of imagery.

Carver Evans finds the extraordinary in the ordinary by capturing reflections created by glass objects and liquid. The titles of her five works, "Light Plays," allude to her interest. Broken spectacles on a surface are transformed from the everyday to the otherworldly through the aura of light, a strange curving of the surface's edge, and the looming effect of a solitary pair of frames.

Angela Strassheim also abstracts common objects that happen to be 19th-century mundane. An industrial whisk, a garden seeder and a garden tool, all circa 1860, turn into metal insects with tentacles, claws and wings through Strassheim's skill in honing in on surfaces and form. Her use of large-format prints and high-contrast scientific film further contribute to the dissected nature of these objects.

Perhaps the most painterly of the group is the work of Alice McClanahan. She is the only photographer on view to employ color photography. By layering black and white and color negatives on a single print, McClanahan creates collages of color, form and texture where the abstract and the representative intermingle. In "Ecstasy," flora mixes with tools and a prostrate female body — one superimposed on the other to give visual form to the intangible concept of the title.

Beyond objects, Lisa Cooper seeks to record the everyday through cityscapes and the people they contain. Her most effective images show the tacit partnership of active occupants and passive architecture. "Man Walking, La Havana Vieja" and "Girl with a Ball, Pinar del Rio" respectively reveal a blurred man striding out of a picture and a young girl walking into the scene; both actions, suspended in time, are further enacted by the angled lines of buildings, streets and rooftops.

Angeline Robertson probes even further into human ordinariness through her sharp focus close-ups of faces. Her camera doesn't miss a single wrinkle, hair or indentation, finding varying textures and shadow play through the canvas of countenance. Beyond formal elements, Robertson also probes that deeper realm of moods and personality by compositional asymmetry and her subjects' unflinching gaze.

All five artists make it convincingly clear that the ordinary does not necessarily mean the banal. Like the star of "American Beauty," Lester Burnham, and that dancing plastic bag, where one finds true beauty might be in a place where it is the least expected.


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