If it's any good, a landscape photo is more than a Kilroy moment testifying to the photographer's whereabouts. Sure, mountains are awesome and hot air balloons are colorful and Tibet is a faraway place. But so what? In the age of mass travel, digital cameras and ink-jet printing, everyone is a photographer. And very competent, too. But the pretty-darn-good quality of most photographs merely raises the bar for what makes a memorable image.
By that standard, the Mpls Photo Center's show of 71 landscapes is problematic and disappointing. Picked from 2,400 entries by 443 photographers from 17 countries, the show has a promise of international sophistication enhanced by the fact that the juror was Twin Cities native Todd Brandow. Based in Paris, he heads the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, a book publisher and packager of photo shows.
Brandow cited the impressive range of techniques used in the entries -- from early pinhole and gum bichromate/platinum prints to modern infrared and digital reproduction. Maybe so, but most of the images he picked have been run through a computer and ink-jet printed. There are so few traditional prints that a technical wizard like Keith Taylor deserves a shout-out just for the prowess evident in his platinum-palladium print "Rain Cloud, Badlands," an evocation of turbulent sky and rocks that has the brooding intensity of a 19th-century photogravure.
About a third of the show is riveting, the rest not so. Perhaps these are the most exciting images that could be culled from a mass of conventionality.
The most distinctive pictures are marked by a strong personal vision and techniques that go beyond documentation to inject psychological tension or convey a mood. In "Road Ends," Vaughn Wascovich of Commerce, Texas, bleeds together two grainy black-and-white images of tracks in a nowhere road. The picture's blurred edges and spattered surface lend it a gritty, existential loneliness and hint at danger in the desolation of a barren grove.
John A. Olson of Plymouth uncovers Parisian glamour "Under the Wabasha Bridge," where two bold spans of concrete swoop overhead and seemingly plunge into the urban cliffs across the water. His silvery, blue-gold toning smartly amplifies a conception of the bridge as an Art Deco masterpiece. With its low angle, darkening sky and ragged tiles, "Siena Roof Tops" by Kent Krugh of Fairfield, Ohio, looks as if the Italian village were photographed by a jittery sniper during a World War II bombing run. Memorable black-and-white pictures include Andrew VonBank's dramatic impression of the Colorado River's circular "Horseshoe Bend," and Michael E. Gordon's sardonic "The American Dream," showing an abandoned ranch house in a landscape of desert, mountains and clouds.
Many images involve tourist vistas. The best have been freshened up with new perspectives. In "Giza Heat," Amy Dokken of Minneapolis essays a novel angle on Egyptian icons by compressing a sphinx and two pyramids into a mirage-like image in a golden heat-haze. From a bird's eye vantage, Israeli photographer Rivka Tabak shows New York's Central Park as a thick-pile carpet of autumnal color stretching between creamy skyscraper-walls. In "Duluth Harbor," Alec Johnson of St. Paul seems to have printed water, clouds and light onto silver satin.
Several artists cleverly play with postcard aesthetics and their pretty clichés. Michael Flicek of Casper, Wyo., presents the bulbous, pastel towers and candy-colored lights of "Pudong, Shanghai" as a misty Disneyesque fantasy. Minneapolis artist James Craven makes "Laguna Cuicocha," an island in a volcanic crater lake in the Ecuadorean Andes, so pristine it could be a fantasy-golf landscape.
New Jersey artist Amy Evans cleverly multiplies, flops and twists a bit of treetop imagery to create a kaleidoscopic fantasy she calls "Clouds on the Ground #106." In "Rustic Beauty on the North Shore," Cynthia Fleury of Eden Prairie turns a decaying boat into a Whistlerian symphony of gold and pink. In "Shanghai," Bemidji photographer Ariana Lindquist created a surreal vista of a man's head isolated among yellow-green highways. And Debra Durkopp of Minneapolis offers a blue-and-gold vista of the Badlands that suggests an updated version of a 1950s watercolor.
Irony about, or criticism of, the Earth's despoiled and overbuilt landscape is in short supply, aside from California photographer John Tynes' "Blackbird," a droll image of a gigantic, maniacally grinning bird-mascot looming over the crowded parking lot of a fast-food joint crouched below distant mountains. As for the rest -- well, at a time when the environment and the natural world are under constant assault from human exploitation and encroachment, it's disappointing to encounter so many landscapes that primarily document the Kilroy moment, however artfully.
Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431