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PHOTOGRAPHY REVIEW

Glimpsing the artists’ essence

At the Griffin, the what, when, where, and why behind the whos

“George Segal’’ from “Artists Observed 1980-1985.’’ “George Segal’’ from “Artists Observed 1980-1985.’’ (Harvey Stein)
By Mark Feeney
Globe Staff / December 7, 2010

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WINCHESTER — Artists like their work to be seen. They don’t necessarily like being seen themselves. Harvey Stein’s “Artists Observed 1980-1985’’ has it both ways. His 34 black-and-white photographs show people like Alex Katz and Robert Rauschenberg and Christo either with their work, in their studio, or both. The show runs through Jan. 30 at the Griffin Museum of Photography.

Posing is what people usually do for them, so some of the artists are understandably reticent — or even concealing. George Segal is shot behind both a window and a filmy curtain. Jane Freilicher peeks around a corner of a self-portrait. Susan Rothenberg is out of focus, as wispy as one of the horses in her paintings. Lucas Samaras wears such a ghastly shirt it’s hard to take your eyes off it — which means, of course, you’re ignoring his face.

Others have no problem performing for the camera. Andy Warhol stares into a mirror (of course). Larry Rivers’s portrait could be called “The Staremaster.’’ It’s as if he’s trying to out-basilisk the gaze of Picasso in the famous Irving Penn portrait. Nancy Graves’s hairdo looks almost as elaborate as the sculpture she’s standing beside. Stein’s portrait of Nam June Paik shows just the artist’s eyes, brows, and forehead emerging from darkness. The effect is beautifully balanced between theatricality and understatement.

Part of the fun of the show is putting together faces with names. Who knew that Ed Ruscha was the missing link between Robert Mitchum and Sean Penn? Or that Ilya Bolotowsky’s mustache could have doubled as a pair of paintbrushes?

Stein’s pictures are about who and when. (Rothenberg isn’t the only ’80s lion, or lioness, on display. Others include Jennifer Bartlett and Jonathan Borofsky.) Laurie Lambrecht’s “From the Studio of Roy Lichtenstein’’ is about who, too, a particular who; but even more it’s about what and how.

When Lambrecht worked as an assistant to Lichtenstein, from 1990 to 1992, he encouraged her to photograph him at work. He figures in a few of the pictures (usually seen from behind). Far more important are the materials and tools of his artmaking: pencils and stencils, a ladder and level, old comics and newspa per clippings, and, best of all, a sink.

That’s right, a sink. Big enough to accommodate three faucets, it’s practically a trough. Above it are jars of paint on unfinished pine shelves. There are a couple of paper-towel dispensers, too. It’s all quite mundane, an effect underscored by Lambrecht’s shooting the sink straight on. Yet it looks gorgeous, as do the other 11 pictures in the show, vibrant as they are with color and scale.

Even though the 17 photographs in “Jason Landry: The Collectors’’ are all portraits, the show is less about who, perhaps, than why. Like the Lambrecht show, it runs at the Griffin through Jan. 23. Landry, who’s the owner of Panopticon Gallery, in Kenmore Square, has taken pictures of, as he puts it, “photography collectors, gallery owners, and art patrons among their collections.’’ Artists make art for the sheer pleasure of it, of course. As previously noted, though, they also make their art to be seen. Landry’s subjects are among the first, and most discerning, people who get to see it.

Most of the portraits are straightforward, although there are exceptions. We get a man’s reflection on the glass covering one of Abe Morell’s book photographs. A Polaroid of Ansel Adams’s face conceals another face, that of Barbara Hitchcock, the longtime artistic doyenne of Polaroid.

The collectors are local, which means that Landry lets us put names with faces (the reverse of the situation with Stein). It’s like old home week. Hey, that’s Bernie Toale sitting at that table! Or the woman with the quite-winning puckish look? Yup, it’s Leslie K. Brown.

We can put name to face even when the face is concealed. In a charming joint portrait, Gus Kayafas faces the camera with beneficent calm. Ah, but his wife, Arlette, looks away. Nice try, Arlette, but anyone who’s been in Gallery Kayafas would recognize that beautiful silvery-white crown of hair anywhere. Also, she does have an excuse. Her attention’s directed at the Harry Callahan behind her.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mfeeney@globe.com.

ARTISTS OBSERVED 1980-1985: Photographs by Harvey Stein LAURIE LAMBRECHT: From the Studio of Roy Lichtenstein JASON LANDRY: The Collectors

At: the Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Road Road, Winchester, through Jan. 23 (Lambrecht and Landry) and Jan. 30 (Stein). 781-729-1158, www.griffinmuseum.org