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Elizabeth Atterbury, a recent graduate of MassArt, began with a still life picture of a corner of her friend’s apartment in Portland. The Study began a research-like production that ultimately recalls Man Ray’s experiments with the picture plane (rather than process) through his invention of the rayogram, and in the end draws attention back to the work of photography as a representative analogue.
Photography Indoors is an exhibition of twelve small images framed discreetly in glass and wood, exhibited in the round at Document. The immediate sensation is organized disorientation. Objects are held, frozen by Atterbury’s adroit placement and lighting in works such as Demo, Composition for the Love Birds, and Brown Frown Clown. Shadows play with viewer’s perceptions in the flatness of the picture plane, calling attention to the represented three-dimensions as well as the two-dimensional plane of the picture as object.
Elizbeth Atterbury, Brown Frown Clown, 2012 Chromogenic print, 11 x 14 inches; Courtesy of Document.
Iconic art critic Clement Greenberg was the first to use “picture plane” as a defining character of modern painting, calling out the meta-approach of modernist paintings to leave the illusionistic value of painting for the pursuit of the act of painting that necessitated a reevaluation of both the image on canvas as well as the relationship between viewer and artwork. Conceivably, this is when painting became sculptural, a trope often seen in contemporary painting (Chicago, think Angel Otero or Veronica Bruce). I don’t mean this with any malice, merely as the eventuality of the trajectory established by those early modernists.
Atterbury’s work appropriates this history into photography through her Photography Indoors. She successfully bridges the aforementioned disciplines and executes these experiments with deft provocation and composition. From there, her works take a sharp turn towards the abstract. / , Sculpture Park, and After HB maintain the same sense of play with the plane, but have been stripped of the artifice of the shadow, relying instead on representational gestures and tricks of the eye.
Elizabeth Atterbury, After HB, 2012, Chromogenic print, 11 x 14 inches; Courtesy of Document.
The minimalists and abstract expressionists are now called to mind. Photography Indoors is like a working-through of modern art history, albeit a promising one by a young artist.
I have not forgotten the title of this exhibition nor the use of Alexander Black, an amateur photographer and commentator, in the exhibition notes. As you may be able to tell, this cue isn’t what drew me to the work. The work stands on its own aesthetic existence. Indoor, photographic work is claimed by Black to be one of the most difficult applications of photography, requiring a mastery of technique and technologies that plein air photography does not. The name has a quality of the demure, the declawed, the domestic – perhaps indoor photography is the representational form best suited to an enclosed world.
(Image on top: Elizabeth Atterbury, The Study, 2012, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 inches; Courtesy of Document.)