Washington street scenes, English parlours and factory towns; abstractions, photo-collages and hand-painted black-and-whites; portraits of the famous and a family album of-and-by local photographers: They are all hanging around town through July in a spate of beautiful-to-bizarre shows. PATTERNS IN LIGHT AND SHADOW -- "Configurations," at the Dimock Gallery (21st and H Streets NW, lower Lisner Auditorium) through August, isolates a trend toward "patterning" in works of local photographers. Borrowing a term from pattern painting, curators Lenore Miller and Gail Mishkin have assembled nearly 60 prints using repeated shadows, the illusion of textures, shapes in geometric formation and playful montages. One of Jeffrey Blake's surrealistic photo-collages breaks a subject's Hawaiian shirt into squares of light. Tim Kilby's cellophone cone constructions under cross-polarized light look more like drawings than photographs. "Architectonics" are included, contrasting lights and darks in ambiguous spatial relationships. Denny Moers' "Banister No. 3" toned silver print is perhaps the most graceful architectural interpretation. TWO FROM EUROPE Generally Sander, Lunn and Ewing are considered the big three local commercial galleries with a photo focus. "We consider ourselves ka2art galleries," says Kathleen Ewing, who's been sticking up for contemporary photography since 1975. Ewing's show through July and by appointment in August (at 3020 K Street NW), is "Two European Photographers." Inspired soft-focus hand-colored black and white prints by Hubert Grooteclaes, including a portrait of Marcel Marceau, outshine a delicate park series by Arnaud Claass. A WASHINGTON SCHOOL, MAYBE -- Is there a "Washington School" or style? "Washington photography is definitely on the map, but the only common thread that's been identified is a certain romanticism," Ewing says. Whatever that means. "It's not abstract," she adds. "It deals with a tangible subject."
"It's very eclectic. It happens there are some very good photographers working here," says Harry Lunn, "but frankly, lots of photographers are not worth showing. Most people can get a certain level of technical expertise. If they have a few ideas, they can turn out a portfolio that's not bad. Only a few go beyond that.
"A lithograph or etching on a wall at least has color and is decorative. An indifferent photograph looks stupid," he says.
Critics no longer debate photography's merits, ranking it alongside oil painting as legitimate art. But does photography sell in Washington? "If you're dead and Harry Lunn carries you, yes," says Noreene Wells, a photographer currently exhibiting at Gallery 10 Ltd. THE LOCAL GROUP -- Most members of Washington's photographic community agree the Corcoran is their prime promoter. The museum regularly collects and exhibits photographs, and offers a range of classes and lectures. The current show, "Photographers X Photographers" (on view through Sunday) is full of inside the jokes and peer group nostalgia, according to curator Frances Fralin. If you know the personalities -- mostly academic types -- you'll be able to trace the shifting relationships among an incestuous photographic community. There's Mark Power by Joe Cameron, Joe Cameron by Frank Diperna, Frank Diperna by Mark Power. "It all folds back on itself," Fralin says. ENGLISH LIFE Lunn is showing Bill Brandt's very personal scenes of English factory workers, chambermaids, pubs and nudes through September 5 at 406 Seventh Street NW. Generally Lunn caters to collector-clients who will spend up to $5,000 for a rare Walker Evans. While Ewing sells Grooteclaes' prints for $250 unframed, Brandt's "Train Leaving Newcastle" goes for $750 at Lunn. Several impressive prints in the Dimock's show can be had for $100. BODYSCAPES AND FRONDS -- Gallery 10's "Photography Invitational" selection of 28 artists' works which opened this week (with a reception this Friday from 7 to 9) at 1519 Connecticut Avenue NW, is striking for its diversity. "Bodyscapes" with colored fabric painted within the black and white shots by Margaret Paris and spectacular mountains of Slovenia by Frederick Gooding Jr., join images of fronds, faces, eerie still-lifes, peeling wallpaper and Mardi Gras oddities. MAURICE TABARD PRINTS -- Sander Gallery's exhibition of 24 vintage prints by French photographer Maurice Tabard (at 2600 Connecticut Ave. NW) is a more sensitive, sophisticated collection. His abstract works, snapped between the wars, are often superimposed, hazy, shadowy photograms or multiple images. Most are priced in the $3,000 to $4,000 range; the show runs through August 22. POSITIVELY URBAN -- "A Positive View of Urban Life," the Washington Women's Art Center member's show at the Conference of Mayors, 1620 Eye Street NW, covers the fourth-floor conference room and hallway walls for lack of better gallery space. The 73 prints are by 24-artists (priced from $40 to $100) from Washington and beyond. FOR STILL MORE PHOTOS -- The National Academy of Sciences show, "Eye of the Beholder," presents 35 color photographs through September 10.
The National Museum of American History continues its show of "Platinum Women" -- early 1900 platinotypes of Evelyn Nesbitt and others.
The Library of Congress exhibit of 166 winners of White House News Photographers Association awards continues through September 7.
The Freer offers 24 photos from turn-of-the-century Iran ("Antoine Sevruguin: Photographer of Qajar Iran,") continuing indefinitely.
The Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History presents 80 color photographs of "Galapagos: Born of the Sea," exotic fish and flora by Feodor Pitcairn through August 2.
Martin Luther King Library features shots by Micheal Pop and Joyce Thompson, "From Trinidad to Washington," at 901 G Street NW.
D.C. Slide Registry of Artists exhibits nine members' works in the Seventh Street showcases of the Lansburgh building (Washington Humanities and Art Center) 418 Seventh St. NW, through July.
Green Spring Gallery, Fairfax Council of the Arts, shows "New Insights: The Photographic Image," by nine area photographic societies, through Sunday at 4601 Green Spring Road, Annandale.