WINCHESTER — Photographs are flat, right? That’s true whether they’re on your smartphone screen or they’re good old analog, put-them-in-an-album images. Water’s wet, photos are flat, and it’s as simple as that.
Actually, there can be exceptions. The three photographers with work in “Ties That Bind: Threaded Narratives” demonstrate just that. The show runs through April 16 at the Griffin Museum of Photography. The work of Astrid Reischwitz,, JP Terlizzi, and Carolle Bénitah is all about layering. That layering can be literal: applying fabric or paint or beading to the photographic image. It can also be figurative, with layers of memory, identity, meaning.
The work of the three other photographers who have shows now at the Griffin — Brianna Dowd, Marsha Guggenheim, and Anne Piessens, — are about layering, too, but without an emphasis on dimensionality.
All four shows run through April 16.
The two dozen works that Reischwitz has in “Ties That Bind” are composites: photographs, both ones she’s taken and vintage family pictures, with fabric stitched on to the image. The embroidery has a twofold effect. It alters the appearances of the image, of course. Yet it also occludes what we’re seeing. In that sense, it recapitulates the wayward manner in which memory works: actual, physical embroidery as metaphorical embroidery. With its unique capacity to arrest time, the camera has a special relationship to memory. Reischwitz’s work is memory made tactile.
Terlizzi takes to an even higher level dimensionality and materiality — the interaction of family and memory, too. He makes assemblages centered on a vintage photograph or photographs. The assemblages are striking in appearance and highly eclectic in their elements: a recipe box, sheet music, pins, a ravioli roller, tree bark, newspaper, a mirror. The list goes on. Somewhere in their aesthetic DNA one senses Joseph Cornell’s boxes, only far shaggier, and, even more, Robert Rauschenberg’s combines, only far smaller. That’s good DNA to have.
The combinations of materials can be quite antic in appearance. None are antic in implication. A Terlizzi family member inspires each, and he offers a lengthy description of the connection to his relative. These family histories tend to be emotionally fraught, even harrowing, which adds a further depth to these intriguing works.
Bénitah, who is French Moroccan, reworks photographs, many of them family snapshots, by variously superimposing on them red ink, gold foil, beading, or, as with Reischwitz and Terlizzi, embroidery. In that superimposition, her work has an affinity with that of Lalla Essaydi, who’ll put Arabic script on her photographs. It’s a comparison that very much flatters Bénitah.
“Through the trivial objects that I create and I embroider, I overthrow the hierarchy of the arts,” she declares. In her work “writing and drawing are a form of resistance to silence.” Perhaps such remarks sound less de trop in French. Resisting silence does not result in eloquence. It’s true that these photographs are anything but opaque thematically. The message is hard to miss when the eyes or mouth in a portrait are covered with red ink. Visually, though, the images manage to be alternately arid and lurid or even both.
The other three shows continue the theme of family. Brianna Dowd’s “Mother Pearl,” a tribute to Dowd’s grandmother, consists of a half-dozen collages. What’s most striking about them is their interplay between color and black-and-white.
The images in Marsha Guggenheim’s “Without a Map” are black-and-white. They’re self-portraits and old family photographs Guggenheim has reworked. A work like “Ancestors” is representative both in subject and appearance. It looks soft, indistinct, plangent, words that describe memory, too.
The origins alluded to in the title of Anne Piessens’s “Origin Stories” are her own. She, too, reworks family photographs, most often as collages. Evanescence and a sense of mystery prevail over solidity and clarity. Feeling matters more than understanding. What we’re seeing are reopened windows but with the curtains still drawn.
TIES THAT BIND: Threaded Narratives — Carolle Bénitah, Astrid Reischwitz, JP Terlizzi
MOTHER PEARL: Brianna Dowd
WITHOUT A MAP: Marsha Guggenheim
ORIGIN STORIES: Anne Piessens
At: Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Rd., Winchester, through April 16. 781-729-1158, griffinmuseum.org
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.