Visual Arts

Left Brain Meets Right Brain in the Mysterious Micro-worlds of Houston-based Photographer

Left brain meets right brain at d.m. allison gallery in the mysterious micro-worlds of Deborah Bay, where the fine art photographer has played with scale and forced perspective to create mystical environments for her characters. In “Cyberia,” her one-inch-tall model railroad figures appear large as seen through the macro lens, where printed circuit boards become walls, the prongs of an integrated circuit serve as fencing and split wires morph into trees.

As we all rush out to buy the next big thing, we leave in our wake a sea of obsolete electronics, televisions and beta devices. Bay harvested the inner workings of computers, telephones and monitors and constructed what she calls “Cyberian cityscapes” in her miniature tabletop worlds.

The photographs, which range in size from 16 inches by 20 inches to 36 inches by 48 inches, were printed onto high-gloss aluminum through sublimation, adding a futuristic and almost dystopian feeling to the images.

Several of the photographs are vaguely unsettling with an undercurrent of menace, and Bay has heavily mined the geek-speak vocabulary to pair each image with a witty title.

Computer Hell has a grungy, industrial look, though it’s blurry and out-of-focus so the viewer can’t quite tell what’s taking place, while Lurker is more obvious, with a man in a blue suit, his head slightly obscured, and oversized copper prongs framing the foreground, vaguely reminiscent of an ammunition belt.

Tagged is open to interpretation with two shadowy figures in the dark. It could be a woman about to fall prey to an attack, or a drug deal gone wrong, or maybe the passing of state secrets. The dark skies weigh heavy in Trolling, with a pair following an unwitting pedestrian against the shadowy fence.

In all of the images the railroad figurines have their backs to the camera. While it’s partly due to the imperfect paint jobs of their faces, which would show up in the macro photography, it also adds to the mystery of these dreamy, out-of-focus and astigmatic vignettes. Bay has posed the figures in ways that suggest movement, energy and drama, with a few of the characters appearing in more than one scene, such as the woman in a red cape.

In Moon Over Cyberia, three soldiers bask in a green glow while grooved connectors loom like towers under a rising moon, revealing a shadowy figure. A book light serves as a streetlight in Virtual World, and there’s a nautical look to Dock Connections.

Midnight in the Garden of 000 – 111 shows a man with a cane ambling through a magical world of orange orbs and odd shapes as lights glow in the distance under the starless night sky.

Most of the images are quite strong, and the creative titles make for a fun show: Speed Test, Among the Digerati, The Hack, In the Public Domain and Internet Explorer.

Bay has another series, though not in this show, that captures the moment a bullet breaks apart when it meets bulletproof Plexiglas. She has two works in the collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and in 2013 the British Journal of Photography featured one of her images on its cover.

"Cyberia" continues through April 2 at d.m. allison gallery, 2709 Colquitt, open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 832-607-4378, Free. 

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney