A good place to start might be in one of the beach towns pictured in the Absolutely Nothing photography show at Platform Gallery. Take your pick: the Normandy beach, photographed by Rosanna Salonia in crayon brights, or the Jersey Shore, nostalgically evoked in sepia by Kristin Giordano.
Ocean City, N.J., Giordano's stomping grounds, has a thick tangle of shingled cottages densely packed near the sea. Before the recent real estate explosion, the town provided agreeable--and inexpensive--weeklong vacations for the working masses of Philadelphia. Nowadays, these modest houses are being leveled to make way for McMansions for the rich, and Giordano photographs them as though they're already just a memory.
Shot by a toy camera that softens architectural edges, her toned gelatin silver prints conjure up a town without people. The houses are blurry and golden brown, already faded into the amber stuff of dreams. A sun-drenched rooftop rises up behind a shadowy stockade in "Wooden Fence, Ocean City, N.J." "Houses, Ocean City, N.J." depicts soft-edged cottages layer upon layer, stretching into the distance without horizon.
Giordano, a Philadelphian transplanted to Tucson, may once have played in the surf just blocks from these houses, but in her pictures, she sticks with the small built spaces--the fence, the alley--that imprint themselves on childhood memories. Sometimes her architectural assemblages grow almost claustrophobic. In "Sidewalk, Ocean City, N.J.," an alley is hemmed in by looming garage doors and an angled curb.
To see the Atlantic, you'll have to go to Salonia's bracing French works. One of her vivid Giclee prints sticks to the land, picturing deep-green bushes tumbling over a white picket gate. But the other, "Asnelle, Normandy #9," offers a satisfying long view of sand, sea and sky.
This straightforward work is a change of pace for Salonia, an Italian-born Tucsonan whose chemically manipulated photos are now on view in the Tucson Museum of Art's Biennial. But Salonia's too cutting-edge for a conventional treatment of the familiar beach landscape.
The horizon line is askew, and the whole picture is tilted onto the diagonal. The shore's lovely natural elements--the distant shimmering water and pink sky--are blurred out. The foreground object that gets in-focus attention is a man-made lime-green sphere, one of those unlovely buoyant balls that hold up the ropes that keep swimmers close to shore. It may be that Salonia simply seized on the ball to liven up her composition, but it also touches on her usual motif of the human impact on the environment.
Giordano and Salonia are just two of 12 photogs in Absolutely Nothing, Platform's "first annual photo salon show," which features Phoenicians and at least one New Yorker. Phoebe McDermott, who's been running the Warehouse District gallery since its inception 10 months ago, says the title means only that the show has no particular organizing principle. Her protestations notwithstanding, water can be fingered at least as a mini-theme.
Giordano and Salonia may play with water elliptically, but ASU photography professor Betsy Schneider provides it directly. In "The Tub," a stunning laminated C-print, a little girl desperate for a swim has folded herself up in a tiny puddle of water in a too-small backyard tub. It's beautifully composed--the long lines of the child's limbs and the oval of the tub push right to the edges of the paper--and its pungent color is nothing short of astonishing. The teal of the girl's tossed-aside flip-flops, the emerald green of the grass and the creamy peach of the child's skin are all luminously rendered.
A former assistant to Sally Mann, a photog made famous by her own edgy, sometimes-nude photos of her own kids, Schneider is tracking new ground in these gorgeous works, which also include a view of the same girl in a mask and seated in a bedroom.
Another mini-theme is photography's ability to juxtapose different images to dissect cultural disconnects. In his ink-jet prints, UA prof Ken Shorr delves into the mid-century psyche, deliberately layering together found images at war with one another. "Slicker I" melds a wholesome '50s-style ad for kids' raincoats with naked women photographed at an old-time nudist colony. "Delirium" is even more complicated. A group photo has World War II soldiers gathered cheerfully around an injured comrade, but this hail-fellow-well-met picture is paired with disturbing images of colored explosions, creepy clowns and naked men.
Similarly, multiple realities co-exist in Robert Flynt's layered photos. The base for one untitled work is a vintage photo of a proper early-20th-century couple, dressed in hats and Sunday best. Flynt, somewhat heavy-handedly, highlights the erotic undertone of their relationship by layering in a second image. A naked woman and a naked man hover over this tightly wound pair.
Giordano is not alone in working the blurry beat, using photography's ability to go soft-edged and shadowy for emotional effect. Ken Rosenthal, a well-known Tucsonan who shows around the country, exhibits a series of nine 4-inch square split-toned silver gelatin prints. Those who squint persistently at their shadowy surfaces are rewarded with elusive images of animals' heads. A ghostly dog coalesces from the vague darks and light, and stares moodily out; a dreamy bird emerges sideways from the shadows.
Finally, the brightly colored and sharply delineated make up their own sub-category. The colored archival ink-jet prints of Duane Dugas, a Louisiana native now living in Tucson, carefully picture real domestic objects, used for slightly creepy, even surrealistic effect. "Where's My Rainbow?" is a pungently colored close-up of a fuchsia velvet headboard, positioned against peeling pink-flowered wallpaper and a near a bright orange door.
Entomologist Sandy Upson, undoubtedly influenced by his scientific training, is the opposite of murky. His greatly enlarged pictures of seed pods and stems, carefully posed and lit in the studio, are as precise as Dutch still lifes, and every bit as exquisite. The yellow seeds in "Horse Nettle" dangle seductively from curving gray stems and glimmer with a radiant light. In "Coral Beans II," two red beans rest inside their curved gray pod, against a background of velvet black. They're as solemn and serene as an Egyptian mummy. And that's something.