|Carl Chiarenza’s ‘‘Solitudes 342.’’|
Connecting the present to the past
PRC showcases its founders’ works
Twenty-five years ago, the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University opened its gallery space. Next year marks the 35th anniversary of the PRC’s founding. To observe those occasions, the PRC has mounted “Then/Now: Recent Work by PRC Founders Carl Chiarenza and Chris Enos.’’ The show runs through Jan. 9.
Enos was the PRC’s first executive director. She now lives in New Mexico. The 10 images in “Then/Now’’ come from her “Portal’’ series. Taken over the past six years, they’re big (24 inches by 30 inches) and consist of color photographs of ancient Anasazi sites. They’re photographs with a catch, though. Enos uses an inkjet printer to put her images on canvas, then paints over sections of the photograph: an orange rectangle here, a brooding Y-shape of black there. “This new work may no longer be considered photography,’’ she has said, “but the inspiration comes from a place the camera sees.’’
Enos photographs the Anasazi structures in tight. They’re not part of a landscape. They are their own context, though sometimes we see pieces of the sky. Enos uses the layering of stones in a wall as an element of design. Their ordered yet not-quite-regular arranging is both visually pleasing and a metaphor for the place of the spiritual here.
Inevitably, one feels an affinity with Georgia O’Keeffe: the setting, the forms and colors. Recalling her first encounter with Southwestern soil, Enos writes, “it was so alive, cracking, eroding, erupting, and decaying.’’ One can feel in these pictures how powerfully the land itself affects her. Her work vividly represents a collision of geometry, documentation, and color — illumination, too. Collision is the word: There’s nothing gentle about Southwestern light. And within that light, sere photographed earth tones meet eruptive painted colors. The results are disorienting, but in a good way. They make you look harder and with more pleasure.
Carl Chiarenza studied with Minor White and wrote his dissertation on Aaron Siskind. That makes him a birthright abstractionist, and proud of it. “The word ‘representation,’ for me, is about photography’s way of transforming things as opposed to the idea of photography’s way of reproducing or tracing the supposed reality of things,’’ Chiarenza has said.
The 23 black-and-white photographs Chiarenza has in “Then/Now’’ are of collages he made expressly for the purpose of photographing them. He then discards the collage. Clearly, this is one case where chicken matters more than egg. This is “a process,’’ Chiarenza writes, “that creates form as well as subject.’’ What we are presented with is a world based on being between: between imagination (and form) and reality (and object).
The pictures come from two series, “Peace Warrior’’ and “Solitudes.’’ The former group, in particular, can have strongly figurative overtones. Some of the titles mention Don Quixote, others samurai. The forcefulness and gleam of Chiarenza’s blacks is such that it’s as if Darth Vader has been let loose in a darkroom (“I am your photographer, Luke’’?). That sounds facetious. It’s meant as simple description. There’s a menacing quality to many of these images, as of barely checked threat and brutality. It is the warrior side of the title, rather than peace, that dominates. The harshness of Enos’s Southwest and the violence of her colors seem like balm in comparison. Which is another way of saying the two halves of “Then/Now’’ complement each other very well.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.