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Barbara Cole brings magical underwater imagery to Newbury Street

‘Between Forms’ marks the first photography exhibit at Pellas Gallery.

"Battersea Garden Diptych: Falling Through Time."©Barbara Cole Photography, courtesy of Pellas Gallery

Toronto-based photographer Barbara Cole uses the swish and blur of water to convey time passing. Her show “Between Forms” is the first solo photography exhibition at Pellas Gallery, which opened in late 2019 on Newbury Street and until now has focused mostly on paintings.

Cole’s techniques are cunning. She has an underwater studio, shooting immersed models through Plexiglas. Some of her works are lenticular prints, in which two or more images are cut into slivers and reassembled in tandem with a special lens to create the illusion of movement.

The artist has a background in fashion photography, and her aesthetic revolves around notions of elegance and sensuality. Unfortunately, the ethereal, lissome, pale-skinned models in most of her works are hidebound icons of beauty. What would it be like to see a dark-skinned, round figure sweeping through these waters? It certainly wouldn’t disrupt the artist’s themes of motion and transformation.

"Underpainting" from the "Figure Painting" series. ©Barbara Cole Photography, courtesy of Pellas Gallery

Even so, there’s magic in these photographs. In “Crossing Lenticular,” from the “Duplicity” series, a model in a flowing white gown moves in front of a mirror, which also reads as a hatch to the sky. Light sparkles. The woman and her reflections — in the mirror and the water’s surface above — suggest identity’s fluidity and the ephemerality of a fairy realm.


Cole shot her “Chromatics” series through colored Plexiglas, and “Playing with Fire Lenticular,” with a slash of fire-engine red dropping through a field of cobalt blue, recalls a Barnett Newman zip painting. Here, a figure swims up the center. The image undulates and shimmers, as abstraction bursts into a real, watery world animated by strokes and kicks.

"Playing with Fire Lenticular" from the "Chromatics" series. ©Barbara Cole Photography, courtesy of Pellas Gallery

Not all the images are lenticular. For “Battersea Garden Diptych: Falling Through Time,” Cole placed two old Polaroids she shot years ago beneath an underwater image. The water’s surface bends like the heavens seeping into this verdant scene, across which the model angelically glides. The whole scene is a lush dream.


All these works are glimmery, aqueous, anchored only by figures who seem like visions, part of the intangibility of it all. Cole’s photography is less about time than it is about the rippling constancy of change — how sublime it is, and how frightening. That’s challenging to capture in a medium that fixes single moments, and Cole does it in dizzying fashion.


At Pellas Gallery, 114 Newbury St., through Feb. 24. 424-394-2184, www.pellasgallery.com

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