Amy Blakemore's color photographs are reminiscent of old family photos. You know, those blurry, haphazard images -- shots where somebody's head is cut off or they've just turned from the camera, shots of nondescript, unidentified backyards populated by long-dead pets. You squint at the pictures and try to puzzle out who's in them, where they were taken and why. That information may be lost forever, but you hold onto the random little images because they're artifacts of someone else's memories.
For "Amy Blakemore: Recent Pictures" at Inman Gallery, Blakemore has photographed her subjects with a delicate, subtle skill, capturing lovely images that feel like accidents and have a warm, faded nostalgia about them. Blakemore uses a plastic Diana camera, whose low-tech cheapness imparts a hazy aesthetic to Blakemore's subjects. Diana cameras tend to blur and to vignette, causing the images to go dark and fuzzy around the edges. Blakemore chooses to use the camera for these qualities, but she also uses the darkroom to mediate its effects. The images are square-format, which, in our world of four-by-six Walgreens prints, enhances their vintage associations. Blakemore prints her photographs at 20-by-20 inches, a size that allows them to remain intimate but lets you really explore the images.
Little Garage (2004) is exactly the kind of picture you might find in the bottom of the family photo box. The blurry image depicts a tiny white single-car garage whose design seems to have been modeled on a Monopoly house. Neat square windows wink out of the door on the toylike structure. Whose tidy little garage is this, and why was it photographed? A fuzzy green orb of studiously trimmed shrub protrudes from the foundation of the house in the foreground. Aspects of the photo -- the white square of the garage, the gray triangle of its roof and the deep green sculptural shapes of the shrub and trees -- become like abstract compositional elements. You flip back and forth between viewing Little Garage formally and trying to construct a story around the image.
"Amy Blakemore: Recent Pictures"
Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800.
Through April 2
Boston Street (2004) is a ridiculously banal neighborhood scene that somehow grabs and holds the viewer's attention. In it, an "L" of pale purple-gray asphalt is bordered by a right angle of muted green lawn and a thick rectangular hedge, imparting a satisfying geometry to the photo's composition. A van is parked down the street, and a delivery truck is just entering the picture. You can't really see enough details to figure out when it was taken, but the image makes you feel like you're spying on the past. It's not that you're seeing anything inherently interesting, but the aura of another place and another time makes it so.
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Blakemore has a talent for making the present feel like a memory. In Policeman (2004), a police officer walks across a street of white wood-frame houses. It looks like a scene out of some 1950s childhood. It's not an idyllic Leave It to Beaver world, nor is it undercut with ominous undertones. The photo just feels marvelously ordinary -- nostalgic but unromanticized.
A tender empathy permeates Blakemore's portraits of people. In Rob (2004), a model of male-pattern baldness fills the lower part of the frame. We see the top of the man's skull as he looks down, his dark hair retreating across his scalp. His skull is a pale sphere against his orange shirt. A backdrop of worn, scrubby grass fills the rest of the picture plane, creating a simple, satisfying arrangement.
In Kathleen (2003), a woman looks directly at the camera -- she's shot a little too close, and it seems like she's about to say something. Behind her, another woman, caught in the middle of opening a drawer, looks out over her shoulder from the door of a shed. Their clothes are simple and could be from any time after the advent of color photography. The picture looks like it was taken on a family vacation at some cabin, circa 1965. It has the warm but faintly lonely feeling of long-ago happy times.
Blakemore has a wonderfully sensitive aesthetic that gives the illusion of being effortless. Her compositions engage you as much as the narratives implied by the images. Other photographers tread into similar technical and conceptual territory, but Blakemore's work is without self-consciousness or pretense -- she isn't trying to be hip or arty or important. Using a little cheap-ass toy camera, she creates photos that are hauntingly beautiful without trying to be, presenting the world to us in a subtle and wistful way. In Blakemore's pictures, the ordinary and the everyday become an unexpectedly poignant and lovely memory.