WINCHESTER — Curatorially, juried shows taketh away even as they giveth. There are so many talented photographers at work, and such a profusion of processes and formats, it’s hard to put together one that’s uninteresting. For the same reasons, it’s just as hard to put together one that stands out. The “21st Juried Show: The Peter Urban Legacy Exhibition,” at the Griffin Museum of Photography, stands out. It runs through Aug. 30, as do the other two shows currently there: Noritaka Minami’s “1972 (2010-present)” and Lindsey Beal’s “Transmission.”
Jim Casper, founder and editor of the excellent website LensCulture, curated the show. He chose the work of 54 photographers, each of whom has one image on display. There are also four photographs from Peter Urban’s “Advertising My Friends” series. As with last year’s show, this one is named in honor of Urban, a Boston commercial and art photographer who died in 2009.
Casper strove for variety and got it: color and black and white, straight and manipulated, documentary and abstract (with color, straight, and documentary predominating). Brian Rosa’s Hong Kong cityscape is as different from Richard Coty’s Detroit cityscape as Dave Jordano’s portrait of a young woman in Detroit is — and Matthew Kamholtz’s Havana marketplace differs from all three. That range of locations is a further indication of diversity.
The show also has a special vibrancy, a combination of energy and surprise. It’s there in Marie Triller’s photograph of museumgoers taking pictures of a George Stubbs equestrian painting with their smartphones (talk about different formats!) no less than it is in Francisco Diaz and Deb Young’s “The Chase,” with two children marvelously captured mid-swing at the playground.
Sometimes what’s vibrant is more subtle. With Darrell Matsumoto’s “Madonna/Venus,” it’s the way the scene conjures up the ghost of Cartier-Bresson in the ’30s (thanks to the play of picture planes and sense of mystery) while looking so different from a ’30s photograph. In Debi Cornwall’s light-suffused picture of a room with prayer rug it’s the presence of a dark arrow off to the right. What’s it doing there? Pointing to Mecca — and to a collision of incommensurates (darkness and light, bluntness and delicacy, decor and direction) that makes for an arresting image.
Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower opened in 1972. The building consists of offices and 140 apartments that are removable, standardized “capsules” (hence the tower’s name). Noritaka Minami has been photographing individual capsules interiors over the past five years — hence the title “1972 (2010-present).” Minami uses the same frontal approach for each interior; it’s his own version of standardization. So much of the visual appeal of these striking images has to do with variation. Some interiors look pristine, others messy. That said, in this context even clutter can look antiseptic.
A round window dominates the rooms. It variously resembles a very large porthole, a sideways oculus, or the eye of God. That last comparison may sound excessive. But the Space Age spookiness of these photographs — abetted by Minami’s canny use of light — can summon thoughts of the supernatural.
For “Transmission,” Lindsey Beal begins with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention images of bacteria that cause sexually transmitted diseases. Beal alters the images, turns them into digital negatives, and prints them as cyanotypes. Cyanotypes are an early photographic process in which blue dominates the positive image. (In January, an exhibition devoted to cyanotypes opens at the Worcester Art Museum.) She then places each print within a petri dish housed in a transparent resin block. A small brass plate is affixed, with the bacteria’s name engraved on it. A companion artist’s book by Beal contains information about the diseases.
The resulting objects have the mundane look of a minor award sitting on a desk. This is incongruity on stilts. Prim in appearance, the items are chaste visually and intentionally grotesque in content and meaning. When banality meets the ick factor, watch out.
21st JURIED SHOW:
The Peter Urban Legacy Exhibition
1972 (2010-present): Photographs by Noritaka Minami
TRANSMISSION: Photographs by Lindsey Beal
At: Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Rd., Winchester, through Aug. 30,
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.