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A photographic trifecta

A Cambria gallery showcases the unconventional photos of three California artists

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I have a friend, a brilliant fine artist who uses colors I didn’t even know existed, who told me one day over tea that he didn’t so much care for photography.

PHOTO BY RICARDO RODRIGUEZ
  • PHOTO BY RICARDO RODRIGUEZ
- PHOTOGRAPHERS THREE:  Central California Museum of Art brings out-of-town artists to SLO County, and vice versa. -
  • PHOTOGRAPHERS THREE: Central California Museum of Art brings out-of-town artists to SLO County, and vice versa.

“It’s too easy,” he said. “You just click a button and it’s done.”

I understand what he was trying to say—that the tabula rasa of the canvas requires finding the subject and coaxing it out. While I appreciate his point, I am inclined to disagree. Yes, photography readily offers up the subject, but unlike the canvas, which allows painters to do whatever they want, the photographer is forced to work within the confines of reality. The subject isn’t necessarily going to cooperate for the perfect shot. Where the canvas works for the painter, the photographer plays subordinate to the subject.

The Framing Vision, a photography exhibit at the Allied Arts Center in Cambria, tries to break the conventional conception of photography. Curated by Robert Frear, the show features Steve Dzerigian, Kristopher Stallworth, and Ricardo Rodriguez, three artists whose very different styles all strive to achieve a similar reaction from the viewer, to capture the seemingly ordinary in a way that had yet to be considered. The Framing Vision is an exhibit of the Central California Museum of Art, an organization working to create a network of art institutions throughout the mid-state, and arranging shows that feature up-and-coming Northern and Southern California artists to circulate among those institutions. The Framing Vision is a bold divergence from what the Allied Arts Gallery usually showcases: paintings and crafts by local artists. The museum’s mission is to take the work of regional fine artists and bring it to a new demographic, one that ordinarily wouldn’t be able to experience it, hence bringing these Central and Southern California artists to SLO County.

Dzerigian’s “Sense of Place” is a black-and-white series of earthquake-damaged structures in Guatemala. Describing his process as an “autobiographical experience of the site,” the Fresno-based artist shoots the same subject from three perspectives: ascending, approaching, and descending. The ascending images are the most captivating. Dzerigian captures the beauty of crumbling archway and dome stone architecture, featuring this incredible craftsmanship contrasted against the sky and sun-soaked clouds. Humans seem to be preoccupied with terra firma, especially in relation to where we’re next going to put our feet, and sometimes we forget the beauty above us. The artistry of the masonry against the heavens is quite striking. The approaching images, with a strong focus on the use of shadows, complement the ascending images and begin to build a sense of place. The descending images, always of Dzerigian’s shoes, help round out the series for a strong finish—though alone, they would fall flat.

PHOTO BY STEVE DZERIGAN
  • PHOTO BY STEVE DZERIGAN

Stallworth’s “Everywhere/Nowhere” series seeks to find the aesthetically striking in the mundane. Stallworth, who lives in Bakersfield, focuses on color, texture, and geometric elements within commercial and industrial environments. His subjects include a herd of turquoise shopping carts against an azure sky, and a condensed focus of a red brick building roofline with a patch of blue sky, the latter reminiscent of a Piet Mondrian painting. The images are from Tennessee locations, but, as the series’ title explains, they’re so generic they could be anywhere, and so seemingly lacking in identity and interest it’s like they’re not really anywhere.

The concept of finding visual stimulation in a world of brick, concrete, and blacktop is eagerly accepted because it has so much potential. While some of Stallworth’s images—like that Mondrian-esque piece—really kill, some of the images fall just short of target. Looking at them feels like watching an athlete who undoubtedly has champion potential, but who needs to introduce a little dynamism to his or her training regimen. The artistic component often takes a backseat to the immediate perception of the subject: the viewer notices the industrial before the chromatic and textural.

PHOTO BY KRISTOPHER STALLWORTH
  • PHOTO BY KRISTOPHER STALLWORTH

Rodriguez’s series, “Re-Frame,” features frames in outdoor spaces. He uses software manipulation to create false environments of receding repetition, using a sequence of frames that extend far to the horizon and draw the viewer deep into the image. The Ventura-based Rodriguez asks the viewer to consider each transitioning frame as its own entity, something that requires consideration beyond the initial reaction.

Taken as a whole, the show is a strong tripod upon which the photographic medium can secure itself. Dzerigian revives the majesty of handcrafted architecture that’s slowly fading away; Stallworth finds the vibrancy of construction that’s intrinsically hard-featured and a permanent fixture in today’s landscape; Rodriguez, with most of his frames set in natural landscapes, contrasts both by forcing the viewer to consider the organic through the confines of the frame. Alone, however, each series feels slightly contrived, and throughout each the focus on any individual image is like extracting a single line from a poem or song; in a solitary examination, a component can easily misrepresent the message and power of the whole. Some things require a slight dismissal of the details in order to embrace the bigger project. In The Framing Vision—a depiction of the world as both old and new, natural and constructed—this is precisely the case.

New Times Intern Ana Korgan can be contacted via Arts Editor Anna Weltner at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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