Light Work has begun its fall season with a wide-open approach. Its main gallery is currently presenting two exhibitions, six photographers’ work, and a range of artistic styles and themes. Yet, even in the midst of this flexible format, there’s a constant: Three artists deal with memory and recollection in their pieces.
Susan Worsham’s one-woman exhibit, Bittersweet/Bloodwork, references her life growing up in rural Virginia, her thoughts on family circumstances including her brother’s suicide, and her parents’ passing. The exhibition, a mix of reflection, inquiry and elegy, discusses complex notions: life and loss, regeneration and our relationship with the natural world.
That may sound philosophical, but the show is grounded in bold, engaging images. Worsham has photographed foxes sprawled out over azaleas and lush vegetation such as rooting trumpet vines. She’s shot scenes in her family home, placing snakes in her childhood bed and flowers in her brother’s bed. She’s taken photos of Margaret Daniel, a longtime neighbor and retired biology teacher, as well as tissue from a rabbit’s lung, crystals from human saliva and a neighbor’s tooth. And she’s created images of a few people whose relationship to her isn’t entirely clear.
The photos, and audio recordings of the artist’s conversations with Margaret Daniel, don’t lead to direct conclusions or a straight-on narrative. Worsham is rejecting any idea that sorting out family matters is straightforward. Her own process is complex, and so is the visual language she uses to explore it. In this exhibit, she challenges herself and those who look at her photos.
The second exhibition, a group show displayed in conjunction with the Everson Museum of Art’s TONY: 2012 (The Other New York) project, consists of varied works. Jan Nagle has dealt with her own losses, including the deaths of her father and cat. Her 18 images portray a rural landscape in Western New York, focusing on roads, roadsides and sky in Niagara County. Nagle communicates a sense of mood through views of the sky, contrasts in light, images that capture what could be a random stretch of road. One of her best photos depicts swirling clouds, a roadside dominated by trees and a billboard that’s implausibly bright. In her photos, two journeys merge: travel down the road and her own working through grief and mourning.
A third photographer, Matthew Walker, shot scenes at SUNY Brockport and the nearby community. Even though he attended the college, his images don’t focus either on his own experiences or the general phenomenon of returning to campus. He has documented common space: a building’s exterior, library shelves, a lecture hall lounge and other sites. Walker is interested in people’s individualized reactions to common space and to memory’s role in affecting perceptions of locales. A person returning to a park she hasn’t seen for 10 years may perceive a landmark in a very different way.
Sarah Averill, meanwhile, has a large selection of photos from her Lodi Street Laundromat Project on display. The images, taken in the Laundromat, in the street and in homes, document residents of Syracuse’s North Side, in a neighborhood where many people have come from Somalia, Burma and other nations. Averill has shot folks in traditional dress, merchants in their shops on North Salina Street and other community members. Her work certainly touches on demographic trends, but its strength is in the individual portraits she’s created. Among other things, the images illustrate her ability to meet complete strangers and establish a comfort level with them.
In Stolen Souls, Willing, Mark McGloughlin has created another series of portraits, albeit one with an unconventional perspective. Most of the subjects aren’t perfectly still; they twist, move and turn. This isn’t a result of the photographer’s defective techniques. He’s striving to create photos that challenge traditional viewpoints on portrait taking. Either they examine the notion of a photo freezing a moment in time or providing a glimpse into a person’s soul. His work investigates the commonplace by moving in a different direction.
Finally, Bang-Geul Han’s Taaz, 2012 presents dozens of small images, each no larger than a postage stamp, on a large expanse of wallpaper. Every image depicts Han herself in ever-changing poses that show off various hairstyles and hair colors. At first, the installation may seem like an exercise in whimsy, but that’s not the case. The artist is interested in varying perceptions of beauty, in connections between cultural patterns and personal identity. There’s no expectation that viewers will examine every tiny image closely. There is a hope they will consider their own attitudes.
Although the two shows have radically different agendas, they coexist nicely at the gallery. Viewers have an opportunity to enjoy Worsham’s large color photos and the range of images in the TONY: 2012 group exhibit. In addition, several photographers delve into memory in a tangible way.
Both exhibits will be on display through Oct. 19 at Light Work, 316
Waverly Ave. on the Syracuse University campus. The gallery is open
Sundays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information,