It's an art world truism that the rise of photo-graphy "freed" painters from the task of mere mimicry on canvas and allowed them to devote themselves to explorations of pure forms, colors and concepts. However, as pictures became cleaner and sharper, photographers also wearied of trueness-to-life and drew on painterly experiments to make their own products artistic. The weird effects produced by older technologies' imperfections offer opportunities for creation that are irresistible—look at the success of Instagram.
Tregoning and Company's ongoing exhibition, The Janus Effect, harnesses both these trends. It presents work from four photographic artists whose work is informed by painting and created using 19th century photographic techniques. Postmodern sensibilities and the imagery of early camera-free picture-making combine to make worlds both dazzling and haunting.
Jeannette Palsa uses several methods to fuse images onto sheets of aluminum. The images themselves are inspired by the paintings of Francis Bacon, who used surrealism to depict the horrors to which body and psyche are victim. The figures in all Palsa's works are untethered from the rules of the waking world; this sometimes leaves their subjects exposed to hostile or confusing forces.
"Screaming Man" shows a broad, blocky figure in a clutching a chair. All his features are distinct, except the face. It blurs as if thrashing in panic or anger. "Man with Hat" wears a sport coat and an umbrella atop his head, covering his face. He flourishes a top hat or bowler in his right arm. Behind him, a ladder peaks into an acute triangle. This is a sign of bad luck; we cannot know whether the hatted man is beckoning us forward to doom, or warning us away.
Greg Martin's works are made with the time-consuming, error-prone method of wet-plate collodian, which makes images that are as unique and un-reproducible as sculpture. Time and decay hang heavy on them. Urban landscapes like "City Study 005" show piles of rubble from which rise columns and walls spotted with indecipherable graffiti, like a backwards "BOBF," with the "O" replaced by a snarling cartoon face. In "Medusa," a freckled girl with a pile of braids and short tight collar stares at the viewer. Behind her is a jumble of objects shrouded in black, sometimes casting off light. They might be machines, or machine pieces overgrown with plants. If the mood is not Southern, it is at least Rural Gothic.
Donald Black Jr.'s photogravures are chemically etched onto copper plates, and sometimes then printed onto handmade paper. His images are less fraught with atmosphere than Martin or Palsa's, but still occupy the eye. His nude figures are presented almost purely as forms in space, and in varying light and shadow. In several sizes and media, Black invites us to follow the snakey line of a shaved-headed female model. We see repeated iterations of a man with a face half-obscured by a hand stroking his chin. He leans forward on his toes, as if his feet are further along than his head in recognizing the need to end contemplation and act.
Gabriel Gonzalez uses digital cameras to snap pictures of gelatin silver prints left to simmer in complex interactions between oxygen and silver. The results produce brilliant colors. In "Photosensitive," streams of yellow roil like molten metal, or NSAS footage of the Sun's surface. Lilac sparks streak across black in "Purple Haze." A metallic yellow cube floats in watery swirls of gray in "Lost in Heaven". It's rapture in color.
Through April 27 at 1300 West 78th St. Saturday April 13, a panel of the artists and the Akron Art Museum Collections Manager Arnold Tunstall will host a free discussion from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 216-281-8626 or go to tregoningandco.com.