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What the light reveals in a new exhibit at Kingston Gallery

Drawn to Light #4, 
35mm processed film on paper, 12-by-12 inches

Drawn to Light #4, 35mm processed film on paper, 12-by-12 inches

Some early photographers, aiming to legitimize their field as an art, strove to make pictures resemble paintings with soft focus, dramatic lighting, and darkroom manipulation. The tables turned in the 1960s: Photorealist painters made canvases as crisply detailed as photographs.

Cree Bruins, in her show “Drawn to Light” at Kingston Gallery, straddles the two mediums differently, shrewdly employing the detritus of film photography to approach color and form as a painter would.

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Bruins salvaged end leaders — the fragments of film exposed to light when you load canisters into the camera — for the series “Follow the Leader.” The throwaway, when printed, becomes a landscape soaked in warm light, with black at the bottom burning upward into umbers, reds, and yellows. In sequence, the 24 images create a sunset: The near-white sky grows gold, then orange. The artist makes a tonal narrative from photos of nothing but accidental light.

For “In Light Of . . .” slashes of color gel filters crisscross on 16 Plexiglas shelves, casting shadows below and reflections above — warm, darting beams of color, interlaced with slivers of white. The tones, from palest yellow at the top to burgundy and brown at the bottom, resonate ever deeper, the way musical notes reverberate in the body. With its radiant, ethereal light, the piece could be a site of worship.

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In her series “Drawn to Light,” Bruins makes jazzy collages from bits of cut-up slide film, which she has exposed and chemically processed to derive a soft, smoky palette. “Drawn to Light #9” is a grid of tiny, irregular squares of film, some with sprocket holes, glowing in black, rust, olive, and mustard, each outlined in ink. The piece jiggles and bops like syncopated music.

A century ago, photographers sought to re-create paint’s materiality, making brush strokes in the darkroom. In Bruins’s work film comes full circle, just as it fades in the face of digital photography. It becomes the material.

CREE BRUINS: Drawn to Light

At Kingston Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Jan. 1. 617-423-4113, www.kingstongallery.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.
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