Multiple visions: 56 New England photographers showcased

Chris Bergeron

Dorothea Lange once urged other photographers to "really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind."

Taking that message into their hearts and studios, 56 photographers from New England share their manifold visions in gorgeous, quirky and startling images in a juried exhibit at Framingham's Danforth Museum of Art.

The engaging "2007 New England Photography Biennial" offers 78 remarkably varied works in color and black-and-white, ranging from straightforward realism to experimental - all the way to outright boundary busting.

And don't forget Deborah Bohnert's hilariously subversive self-portraits as a shopaholic cut-out in her briefs and bonnets.

Representing a wide spectrum of styles and technologies, this show is fun and provocative, soothing and frequently transporting.

Check out the chic technicolor hairdos on a trio of dummies in Don Cohen's "Window Shopping: Hollywood." If you've ever wondered what sort of photos Salvador Dali might have taken, puzzle over Fran Forman's surreal image of a neatly dressed man suspended from a gyroscope in "Airborne."

Maybe you would prefer the elemental beauty of Susan Nicolay's ghostly "Maja's Tree." If the matronly woman getting a perm in Larry Buckley's "Love Life" or the solemn child alone with a toy in Ciaran Brennan's "Daydream" do not draw you into their private reveries, you're immune to photography's charm, and it is time to tune in Drew Carey and "The Power of Ten."

After examining 639 pieces from 148 artists, jurors Karen Haas and Arlette Kayafas selected 78 photos by 56 artists for the show that occupies two galleries and the corridors of the Union Avenue museum. The show runs through Oct. 28. Haas is curator of the Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Kayafas directs the Kayafas Gallery in Boston.

Museum Executive Director Katherine French said she asked the jurors to fulfill very specific parameters for the show. "I told them I wanted the very best show possible," she said.

To qualify for the show, photographers had to reside in New England and submit work completed since 2004, said Danforth registrar and curator Lisa Leavitt.

French credited Haas and Kayafas for avoiding "safe images" to select photographers who "are always trying to push people to really see."

"Sometimes I'm distressed to see visitors first looking at the wall labels (next to each photo)," she said. "If they really look at the images, I hope they can see and understand and visualize things differently."

Submitting very different kinds of photos, Rania Matar and Lissa Rivera were selected for purchase awards by the jurors, so their works will become part of the Danforth's permanent collection.

Three images by each artist are prominently displayed on either side of the entrance to the museum's main Pigors Gallery.

Working in black-and-white, Matar depicts the life of women and children in her native Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East in sharp narrative images.

Rivera is showing three distinctive color photos of prestigious Boston-area private schools as part of a project to explore "educational institutions that act as a vehicle for class mobility."

Working with the jurors, French organized the exhibit to group together photos sharing common themes and styles.

She described photos hanging in one corridor as "my edgy, weird wall" while the Landman Gallery, which she called "my Zen room," features about a dozen "quiet, formally composed" landscapes and natural scenes.

Photos in the gallery range from Remi Thornton's brooding "Restaurant," which is reminiscent of an Edward Hopper painting, to Joshua Winer's imposing mountain scenes that are titled with data provided by a global positioning system.

The exhibit includes photos by several local artists, including Willard Traub of Saxonville Studios; Leslie Starobin, who teaches at Framingham State College; and Mari Seder of Worcester, whose images of old toys explore "themes of memory, nostalgia for the past and aging."

Traub's stark image of an intravenous drip titled "Recovery 2" was taken during his long battle with a blood disease that required a bone marrow transplant.

While some visitors may prefer a unifying theme, the exhibit's strength is its variety of styles and visions.

A recent graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art, Megan Bigelow is showing a cuddly, palm-sized bunny, while Nadia Boughton's "The Grand Illusion" depicts suburbia in dark ominous tones. Erik Gould transforms parking shacks in downtown Providence into monuments of human alienation and Don Gurewitz presents a Cuban airport as a flyblown relic of revolutionary dreams.

While there are many standouts, Bohnert's "Self-portrait Cut Out" series is playful and profound in equal measures. She photographs herself as a sort of paper doll accompanied by constructed cut-outs of outfits that raise interesting questions about gender, role playing and identity.

In images like "Trendy and Bendy Debbie," she gazes into her own lens and the viewer in tights and frumpy hats as if to dare us to look and decide what we're really seeing.

Lange, whose classic photo "Migrant Mother" also stared into our souls, would approve.

THE ESSENTIALS:

The Danforth Museum of Art is located at 123 Union Ave., Framingham.

Hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On Sunday, Sept. 23, Karen Haas and Arlette Kayafas will give a gallery talk at 3 p.m. followed by a live performance by Deborah Bohnert.

Museum admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students and free for children under 12 and Danforth members. The museum is wheelchair accessible.

For more information call the museum at 508-620-0050 or visit the Web site www.danforthmuseum.org.