FRAMINGHAM — Photography is inherently reductive. A camera reduces as naturally as a brush or pencil adds. It takes three dimensions, renders them as two, and places a frame around them. This tendency of the medium to strip away is what Elizabeth Ellenwood fastens on in “Of Light and Line.” It runs through May 17 at Danforth Art.
The photographs are black and white (a radical reduction of the spectrum) and have a clean, pared-down look. One of the virtues of black and white is how it makes form easier to see. Color, for all that it enriches and enlivens, can distract. For a formalist sensibility like Ellenwood’s, color might even be seen to violate.
There are no people in these photographs. That really would be a distraction. It makes perfect sense that she’d photograph, up close, some exterior panels of the New England Aquarium rather than any of the creatures within. Somehow the scraggly grass at the base of a stucco wall in Miami almost sneaks into another frame. It looks like an affront to the wall’s forthright bareness.
Instead of animal or vegetable, it’s geometry that draws Ellenwood. It elegantly recurs in the form of windows, coiled hoses, and the like — everyday items that you might not notice as geometric, but Ellenwood does. Circles or ellipses figure in six of the 20 photographs. Rectangles in one form or another show up in all but two.
Formalism can seem slightly (or not so slightly) inhuman. That’s not the case here. Ellenwood finds expressivity in utility wires and metal railings and blank walls (the blankness registers as cleanness). A faintly spiritual sense precludes there being anything antiseptic about these images. Their striving for purity feels almost as much ethical as aesthetic in nature.
Prilla Smith Brackett and Amy Ragus’s “Fractured Visions,” which also runs through May 17, is a kind of coversation. Brackett does landscapes that variously combine drawing, acrylic, woodcut, oil, stencil, and other formats. She loves layering — of picture planes as well as media. What she really loves, though, are trees. They figure throughout her 16 works here.
Ragus likes trees too. A pair of them frame the cascade in “Yosemite Falls.” And, yes, a line of bare trees fills the background of “Freight Train.” But what you notice with the latter is how Ragus has visually exploded the interior of her Ford sedan. At once alarming and humorous, it’s as if Lee Friedlander’s “America by Car” series has crashed into one of David Hockney’s “joiner” photo collages. Like Hockney, Ragus takes multiple exposures and arranges them to form a larger whole that’s jagged and jazzy. Sometimes there’s more collaging, sometimes less: so subtle as to be all but unnoticeable in the magnificent emptiness of a Newfoundland landscape; almost Cubist, the picture can look that fragmented, as in “Freight Train” and four other car interiors.
Ragus’s and Brackett’s images don’t so much resemble each other as rhyme. The visions may be fractured, but they speak to each other. This is one case where compound fracture is preferable to simple.