WINCHESTER — The 34 photographs in Lou Jones’s “distressed:memories” are square, roughly 8 inches by 8 inches. Such formal sobriety happily collides with how playful and inventive the content is. The show runs through Oct. 1 at the Griffin Museum of Photography. The three other shows currently on display run through Oct. 24.
Jones has been a notable figure in Boston photography for many years. His work comprises photojournalism, portraiture, and sports photography, as well as advertising and corporate projects. “distressed:memories,” which he’s been working on for more than 20 years, falls into none of those categories.
As Jones puts it, the images “investigate those things . . . I have seen but do not really exist.” The photographs are staged. They’re like fashion shoots for the id. Many of them spring from Jones’s dreams, and they offer the deadpan juxtaposition of the precisely realistic and fantastically incongruous one finds in dreamscapes. To underscore that effect, Jones distresses the images, to make them look antique. This makes them seem untethered in time — at once historical and contemporary in appearance.
The titles are simple: “Skateboarder,” “Umbrellas,” “Fruit Vendor,” “Santa Claus.” What they show isn’t. The subject of “Young Fisherman” holds up her catch — but it’s already skeletal. The musician in “Cello” is playing her instrument — but in what looks like a marsh — and she’s bare-legged, despite wearing a tuxedo jacket, shirt, and tie.
The photographs are in black and white. Considering their often-disorienting appearance, this is wise. In color, they’d be overwhelming, perhaps even oppressive. Black and white puts some graphite in the reactor.
Several of the photographs are displayed with three-dimensional objects. It’s a further instance of Jones’s playfulness. “Welder” hangs alongside a pair of goggles and an array of pipes. Next to “Wheelchair” is an antique wheelchair. Next to “Dada,” which shows a woman holding a painting that bears the outlines of a female limbs and torso, hangs the actual painting. “Cameras” has two vintage cameras alongside it, a Speed Graphic and a view camera.
About half of the images come with texts of several sentences. These texts are — take your pick — backstories, glosses, reveries, riffs, gags, or some combination thereof. They’re not part of the wall labels, though. You need to pick up the binder that’s in the gallery to read them. The images certainly stand on their own, but they’re even shrewder (and more fun) with Jones’s explanations.
Zachary P. Stevens’s “Watching the Ice Melt” consists of two dozen cyanotypes. Cyanotype is a 19th-century process in which the image is tinged blue. Architectural blueprints are cyanotypes. The photographs, Stevens writes, use “cameraless abstraction . . . to address climate change through themes of glacial ice melt, memory, and loss.” Their blueness alludes both to ice and this blue planet we live on. The images are unframed, which gives them an immediacy that balances the distance created by their being abstract.
The environment also inspires Rhonda Lashley Lopez’s “Life Narrated by Nature.” The 31 images are small and densely hung, with thick black wood frames. Think of the arrangement as a photographic thicket.
Like Stevens, Lashley Lopez also uses old processes. She employs platinum, palladium, and gold leaf, which give her work the soft, dreamy look of Pictorialist photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That look conveys an otherworldly, even spiritual quality. This is nature internalized, as much state of mind as external reality.
Dylan Everett’s seven very handsome photographs are large-ish (20 inches by 16 inches or 30 inches by 24 inches) and painterly. The painterliness is owing to three things. First, he has a fondness for ornament, texture, and decoration. Second, he uses photo-collage, still life, and re-photography, as he puts it, to “collapse figure and ground into surface.” Finally, he has an excellent eye and real skill — not that there’s anything final about that. Fine, yes; final, no.
LOU JONES: distressed:memories
ZACHARY P. STEPHENS: Watching the Ice Melt
RONDA LASHLEY LOPEZ: Life Narrated by Nature
At Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Road, Winchester, through Oct. 1 (”Lou Jones”), with the remaining shows through Oct. 24. 781-729-1158. www.griffinmuseum.org
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.