WINCHESTER — The main show at the Griffin Museum of Photography has an unusual subject: artist’s studios and photographer’s darkrooms. In “Leaving Their Mark: Studio Practice,” Chris Rauschenberg and Meggan Gould let us see where the magic happens, and the images can themselves be a bit magical.
Actually, the subject isn’t quite so unusual right now. “Creative Spaces: The Photographer’s Studio as Inspiration” opened recently at the Museum of Fine Arts and runs through April 28.
“Leaving Their Mark” and the three other shows currently up at the Griffin run through Dec. 10.
Rauschenberg (yes, he’s Robert’s son) has 11 color photographs of artist studios. The plural applies even within each photograph, since they’re composites of multiple images. Yet those larger photographs don’t look cluttered or jumbled, despite showing several studios. The subsidiary images really do cohere within the frame — assuming, that is, the photos were framed. They’re not, nor are they matted.
The unadorned presentation complements the informality of the subject matter. (What, you thought artists’ studios would look … formal?) Unadorned and informal are especially welcome qualities, since most of the photographs are so big. “In Memory of Robert Frank,” for example, is 58 inches by 12 inches. Somehow Rauschenberg manages to make the pictures seem more inviting than imposing.
Gould’s nine darkroom photos are engaging in several ways. There’s the human angle. Each darkroom reflects the personality of its user. There’s the nostalgia angle. In our digital age, darkrooms are throwbacks. There’s the, so to speak, inside-out angle. Darkroom are about being dark, yet Gould shows them in all their clean (if not tidy), well-lighted glory. Finally, there’s the hang-out angle. These are such appealing spaces, full of all sorts of interesting things.
Like Rauschenberg’s photographs, these darkroom images are unframed and unmatted. Gould has eight other photographs in the show, from her ongoing “inksets” series. Those photos are framed and matted. They show items usually thought of as white (marshmallows, tampons, milk), yet here they’re positively candy-colored. What gives?
Gould has opened up ostensibly empty color-printer cartridges, concocted paints out of the pigments that inevitably remain inside, and applied them to those color-absent items. The “cheerfully hued, chroma-toxic” results, as Gould puts it, are both great fun to look at and a reminder of the chemical hazards we leave in our wake.
The Griffin likes to have photographers enter into a visual dialogue with work by the museum’s namesake, Arthur Griffin. The latest participant in this “Illuminating the Archive” series is Janice Koskey. She has nine photographs on display, alongside three by Griffin and one by his first wife, Claire. The common theme is nautical: dinghies, the beach, a seascape.
Eight of Koskey’s photographs are in color, which she uses to memorable effect. Sometimes it’s so lusciously saturated as to seem painterly. With “Blushing Sunset,” the veins of orange-rose she’s captured within menacing storm clouds have a quite-ravishing delicacy that recalls watercolor.
David Johnson, a photographer, and Philip Matthews, a poet, are collaborators. “Wig Heavier Than a Boot,” a marvelous title, comprises three videos, a dozen or so photographs, and several poems. Some of the photographs are landscapes. Others are character studies of Petal, a feminine persona Matthews … assumes? takes on? performs as? presents? The difficulty in settling on a verb is a reminder of how much persona is a matter of expression, and thus verbal, rather than just one of appearance and presentation.
Cody Bratt’s “The Other Stories” is a sort of family saga. It focuses on a very dark side — those “other” stories — exhibited by both his paternal great-grandfather and maternal grandfather. There are family photographs, drawings, letters, bits of text: family history as documentation, as lamentation, as indictment. Some of the photographs are torn or distressed, others Bratt has painted or drawn on. The emotional forcefulness on display is unmistakable. Yet the emotions feel inchoate and opaque.
LEAVING THEIR MARK: STUDIO PRACTICE — Chris Rauschenberg and Meggan Gould
ILLUMINATING THE ARCHIVE: Janice Koskey
WIG HEAVIER THAN A BOOT: David Johnson and Philip Matthews
THE OTHER STORIES: Cody Bratt
At Griffin Museum of Photography, 67 Shore Road, Winchester, through Dec. 10. 781-729-1158, grffinmuseum.org
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.