CAMBRIDGE — “Home” is one of those simple words, like “love” or “hate” or “Trump,” that stops being simple as soon as you start thinking about it. Or, in the case of “Home Sweet Home,” looking at it. Thirty-two different looks at domesticity are on display in the show. The title is the one predictable thing about an otherwise agreeably unpredictable enterprise.
Organized by the Photographic Resource Center and Analog Forever Magazine, it runs at Lesley University’s VanDernoot Gallery through March 15. The PRC’s Jessica Burko curated the show.
There are views of houses, views of specific rooms, views of furnishings, views of appliances. With its sheen and pride-of-place centrality, Deanna Dikeman’s “Sunbeam electric frying pan, 3/1990″ could be the kitchen equivalent of a reliquary.
What aren’t viewed, or not very often, are people. They’re seen in just eight photographs. One of those eight is Ann Kendellen’s “Dinosaur Lap,” the lap in question belonging to a gentleman the top of whose pants are covered by toy dinosaurs. These are distressed jeans of a very different sort.
The relative absence of people makes sense, since what defines the show is evoking home rather than documenting it. Specificity, and what’s more specific than a person, is as likely to undercut evocation as enhance it.
Yuliya Kohal’s “Memories of Home” shows just such a process of indirection at work. We see a pair of worn slippers, blue, on a patterned carpet, red, framed by deep shadow. In showing that particular what Kohal conjures up a particular who living in a particular where.
The photo amusingly contrasts with Karl-Gustaf Hellqvist’s “Kids gathered for a LAN-party,” which rather than actual kids shows a dozen+ pairs of sneakers and clogs and hiking boots that young stocking-footed partygoers have left in a mud room.
Striking as Kohal’s image is on its own, and that’s quite striking, it offers a further footwear-related fillip: how it recalls Patti Smith’s black-and-white photo of Robert Mapplethorpe’s slippers, not that anyone would ever associate Mapplethorpe with any manner of domesticity.
Slippers and shoes involve looking down. Ceiling lights require looking up. “Home Sweet Home” has not just one of those but two. Caitlin Loi’s and Margo Geddes’s renderings of them are examples of what the exhibition does best: presenting things people take for granted (when was the last time you noticed a ceiling light?) and show them for the striking objects they are.
Those photos are also an implicit reminder that light — natural, artificial, any kind — is even more important for photography than a camera is. There is such a thing as camera-less photography, after all. The importance of light is emphasized in Adrien Boissonnot’s “Morning Light,” where various religious items placed on a shelf or hanging on a wall are dramatically lit. The title of Jason Hooper’s “The light that saved me” might be seen as having a religious connotation; and in strictly visual terms the image all but genuflects to the power of illumination.
The tomatoes and grapes seen on a table in Katie Prock’s “Quiet like an empty house” seem all the more alluring for the way Prock has light fall on them. Their colors look quite luscious, as do those of the two cakes in Alexandra Brodsky’s “New Home” and the flowers in a pair of vases.
Only three of the photographs in “Home Sweet Home” were taken outdoors. Interiority is the order of the day: spatially as well as emotionally. There’s also one photograph taken from the inside looking out, Emily Rena Williams’s “Through the Bedroom Window.” Seeing it is a reminder that home is defined just as much by what’s out there as what’s in here.
HOME SWEET HOME
At Photographic Resource Center, VanDernoot Gallery, Lesley University College of Art and Design, 1815 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Through March 15. 617-975-0600, www.prcboston.org/home-sweet-home
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.