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Three Downtown Galleries Take A Chance On Fine Art Photography

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'Igor the Strongman, Duffy Circus, Kildare, Ireland, 1973' by Sheila Potter
  • 'Igor the Strongman, Duffy Circus, Kildare, Ireland, 1973' by Sheila Potter

Long Journey Home
Opens April 15
On view through May 15
Charleston Art & Portraits
10 North Atlantic Wharf 724-3424

Focus on Photography
On view through April 29
Ella Watson Richardson Fine Art Gallery
91 Broad St. 722-3660

Through a Glass Darkly
On view through April 30
53 Cannon Gallery
53 Cannon St. 853-2004

Maybe it's the increasing popularity of digital photography that's made its print predecessor seem more valuable and collectible. Maybe it's simple nostalgia. With the mighty duo of Kodak and Nikon both phasing out production of many of their film cameras, there's been a knock-on effect in the art world, with the popular Edward Steichen's photography selling for up to $2.9 million (for the murky "The Pond — Moonlight," auctioned at Sotheby's New York this year).

While fine art photographs are still much less of a sure sell than decorative paintings, several Chucktown galleries are lending space to some serious snaps. Charleston Art & Portraits opens Long Journey Home this Saturday, with a collection of photographs by Kelly Green documenting the 2004 Hunley crew burials. The shots of mourning widows and men in full military dress skillfully bridge the gap between the medium's mid-19th-century infancy and the candid style of today's photographers.

As proof of the art form's progress, one downtown gallery sells nothing but photographs. Imaging Arts on King showcases the work of Alabama-born Walter Le Croy, who's become increasingly fascinated with the "beauty of detail" found in extreme close-ups of the objects around him.

VP of operations and sales Dianna Rose is concerned with other, less ethereal details. "We have Ann Long Fine Art on one side of us," she says, "the Sylvan Gallery on another. Most people starting a home can't afford what's there. Our photographs are printed on canvas, they're bold, and affordable for young people."

The Ella Walton Richardson Gallery eschews Imaging's glossy, stylized stock in its Focus on Photography, showing new work by Richardson, Lyle Allan, DuBose Blakeney, and Rick Rhodes. Richardson's long been a champion of photography as art, and her present pieces don't jar with the gallery's oil paintings. Rhodes' contributions are particularly notable, transforming well-known local landmarks into weird and wonderful objects (such as "526").

For more obscure, non-traditional work, there's 53 Cannon's Through a Glass Darkly. This show, guest curated by Sandy Logan, fills the whole gallery. It includes '70s-era portraits, colorful abstracts, stylized street scenes, and manipulated landscapes.

Prolific local artist Bea Aaronson shows her versatility once again with black-and-white studies of her grandmother Hanka Rappaport, an elderly lady leaning on a window pane. The rings on her fingers and her manicured nails suggest that she's clinging to the remnants of her youth and beauty. Close-ups of her aging hands expose the poignant truth.

Sheila Potter has dug up some equally powerful photos from Ireland. These rare prints of tinkers, carnies, and royalty were shot 30 years ago, but are made ever-relevant by the expressive faces of the subjects. Rachel Vykukal continues a loose theme of "the passage of time" with her juxtaposition of classically posed, draped, or masked figures in strange locations; one is leaving a Port-A-Potty, another lies in a doorway like a drunken student who's forgotten her keys and is sleeping outside for the night. Vykukal attempts to challenge our acceptance of classical art as a model of perfection, simultaneously updating old motifs. Some of the results are overwrought, but the choice of backgrounds keeps things interesting.

Also on display are eerie landscapes by Katie Leonard, who has scratched or burned her negatives to create sepia images that resemble oil paintings. Some look like experimental works-in-progress, while others are sumptuous. Leonard also provides black and white fish-eye photos that have an uncanny edge.

Sandy Logan is enamored with the slice of the upper peninsula known as the Neck, and it shows in some of his recent photos. He has a knack for finding arcane objects in unobtrusive places and making them look good — for example, a classic car drowning in weeds or an abandoned baby doll from a broken home ("Left Behind").

Any gallery that exhibits photos in place of more commercially viable, decorative paintings is taking a risk. But the long-term benefits spawned by an appreciation of photography's various forms, its affordability, and concern with the "beauty of detail" make it a risk worth taking.

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