In a world gone digital, certain photographers soldier on with film. Some even work in black and white, ignoring siren calls of color, immediacy and digital tricks.
They might, however, have a few neat tricks up their own sleeves. For proof, see The Creative Eye at the Dayton Art Institute's (DAI) Regional Artists Gallery, where photographs by Sean Wilkinson and Marc Suda are on view.
Each artist's distinctive style quickly establishes which works are whose, though their slim frames also divide the photographs: black for Wilkinson's and silver for Suda's. Both artists play with reality to reveal invention rather than fact, but they go about these inventions in utterly different ways.
Wilkinson's solid classical background (he studied with Minor White, Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind) is seemingly set aside for the series at DAI, titled "Something More and Less." He uses a plastic camera, making repeated exposures of the same scene a few seconds apart so that the negative becomes a record of time as well as place. Because the camera moves slightly between takes, a veiled and mysterious world emerges.
"I can only guess how what I see before me will be transformed," Wilkinson says in his artist's statement.
"The main event of picture making is therefore an act of imagination, and the result is always a surprise."
Some of these surprises are more successful than others. At their best — as in a shot made in Cleveland last year that shows what might be an extremely rickety stair seen from beneath or, then again, might be something else entirely — these pictures capture the imagination and evoke both melancholy and pleasure.
Composition is vital to their effectiveness, as subject matter is elusive. Scale can be difficult to determine.
One of the Dayton pictures shows what I first took to be a hillside with a fallen wall lying against it, but then the "wall" morphed into something that seemed to be metal grillwork, perhaps a drain cover, turning the "hillside" into a small heap of dirt. Another picture could pass as a view of a rundown castle wall, small-windowed, a rough ladder set against it.
Place is in question as well as time. Most of these photographs, which date from 2005 to 2007, were taken in Dayton — although Wilkinson also represents rust-belt cities past their prime (Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh) as well as the international bustle of Rome and London.
Wilkinson lives in Kettering, Ohio, and teaches at the University of Dayton. I suspect that he counters his catch-as-catch-can act of photographing by adept and experienced dark room technique.
Suda's photographs of flowers, from a series he calls "Botanixa Noveau," are as sharply focused as Wilkinson's pictures are hazy. But don't be deceived: The darkroom is the site of his most concentrated work as well.
With a couple of exceptions made in 2003, these works all date from last year. They're photographs of flowers from his own garden, hand-printed limited editions on gelatin silver paper that is then sepia toned.
"I explore textures, planes and volumes," he says in his own artist's statement. "Through selective focus, abstraction and compositional choices, I have created a body of work removed from reality, yet beautiful, dimensional and organic."
A sense of life is almost palpable in some of these portrait-like pictures, most especially in "Amaryllis II (Bud)," the bud poised to open, the stems almost like fingers. In Suda's photographs a sunflower winks, a poppy becomes a torch; "Tulip (Sideview, No Stamen)" is oddly bereft but still lovely. "Hibiscus II (Ethereal)" could be an elegant insect in a tutu to a viewer allowed a flight of fancy.
Some works appear to be paired: "Amaryllis I (Opening)" and "Amaryllis I (Open)" as well as "Hibiscus I (Detail)" and "Hibiscus I (Front View)." The latter gets my vote for the most drop-dead gorgeous of these photographs, all delicate ruffles and slender lines across the surfaces, along with "Magnolia Ghost," which has satin-like, splayed petals forming something of a circle.
Suda, currently a curatorial intern with the DAI, began his photographic studies in college and has pursued them in the 10 years since, developing his own business and exhibiting in regional galleries.
It's encouraging to see photographers still pushing the envelope in the old technology, even as new technology opens other options. The poet T.S. Eliot told us that "the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time." That's precisely the place Wilkinson and Suda are busy finding every working day.
THE CREATIVE EYE is on view at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North, Dayton, through April 20. Get gallery hours and find nearby restaurants and bars at citybeat.com.