This is the 18th iteration of Exposure, the annual juried exhibition at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University. It runs through July 27. Some 200 photographers submitted their work for consideration this year. Eight photographers were chosen by Karen E. Haas, the Museum of Fine Arts’ Lane Curator of Photographs.
The point of a show like this is twofold: merit and diversity — put another way, good pictures and a variety of them. That said, the images this year do have two things in common (beside quality, of course). They’re all in color and they’re all on the large size, ranging from 18 inches by 12 inches (Keiko Hiromi’s portraits of drag queens preparing to go on stage at Jacques Cabaret, in the Theatre District) to 50 inches by 40 inches (Tara Sellios’s allegorical renderings derived from Rodin’s sculpture “The Gates of Hell”).
Among the pleasures the show affords is seeing linkages emerge. Dante is the name of one of Hiromi’s subjects. Rodin’s inspiration was “The Inferno.” And the good-natured garishness of the drag queens finds an echo, of sorts, in the metaphorical garishness of Sellios’s pictures. One shows a pair of crystal glasses filled to the brim with a not-nice-looking liquid. A triptych displays what looks to be an octopus carcass. Sellios easily has the most distinctive sensibility of any photographer in the show, if also perhaps the least accessible.
Three of the photographers present views of nature. Thomas Ladd’s “Sheep Pasture Gardens” looks at a set of community gardens in North Easton. Snow covers a chicken-wire fence. A garden hose appears in all its snaky mystery. Ladd, who is chairman of the Design Department at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, sees how the fecundity of these plots can extend to texture and pattern.
William Rugen’s “New Botanicals” series returns the time-honored genre of botanical prints to its literal roots. That’s what he includes in his images, along with the flowers’ blossoms and stems. It’s a startling, if also quite sensible, thing to do. What would seem to make less sense is photographing his subjects against brightly colored backgrounds. It’s a reminder that these photographs, unlike “old” botanicals, are about art rather than science.
Of her series “The Keepers,” Christine Collins writes, “There is a kind of magic in beekeeping. . . . I am making pictures that suggest ceremony, ritual, and mystery of survival.” That claim may sound rather grand., but it’s accurate. Collins, who teaches at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, manages to convey a quasi-sacerdotal quality in her subjects’ gloves and hats and other apiary appurtenances.
Sense of place defines the work of Dave Jordano, Bryan Schutmaat (winner of the best of show award), and Frank Ward. A Detroit native, Jordano understands how much people make a place what it is. So his upbeat but unillusioned response to his hometown’s negative press is to show us Hakeem, Angela, Aya, Bey Bey, Glemie, Marshall, Jeannette, Brad — Detroiters all — who go about their daily lives as you and I do, only there rather than here.
Schutmaat describes his series “Grays the Mountain Sends” (isn’t that a beautiful title?) as an exploration of “the lives of working people residing in small mountain towns and mining communities in the American West.” The man in “Ralph, Moorecroft, Wyoming” has a face that could equally well belong to a saint — or a condemned man. “Gold Mine, Lead, South Dakota” resembles some ancient Roman ruin. “Tonopah, Nevada” looks like a ruin, period. Schutmaat’s soft, unemphatic colors make these striking images all the more striking.
Ward’s “The Drunken Bicycle — Travels in the Former Soviet Union” shows a nearly depopulated realm of everyday strangeness. “A paradise of paradox,” Ward says. Sites he photographs range from a rather rancid-appearing cafe in Kyrgyzystan (no wonder no customers are visible) to a a glowing pit in the Turkmen desert to a snow-covered Irkutsk backyard. This is the series that most makes you want to see the rest of it.