COLOR IS in the ascendant in art photography, and "New Color/New Work," at four area galleries explores all its bright possibilities.
Addison/Ripley, Kathleen Ewing, Jones Troyer and Middendorf galleries joined forces for this show. It was the only way to accommodate 18 photographers and their individual themes. One photo each just wouldn't say enough.
Although the photographers eschew traditional black and white, they don't do color for color's sake. Anything abstractly artsy is discarded -- in favor of reality, ambiguity and accidents of nature.
Large-format cameras journalistically home in on details: William Christenberry's plastic flowers on a poor grave, or Bill Ravanesi's madonnas with Christie Brinkley posters in a teenage boy's room. The photographers have the enviable knack of finding the marvelous in the ordinary. They revere the everyday.
In a sense, they all present documentaries -- whether it's Larry Babis taking us through the Australian outback or Jim Dow traveling from stadium to sandlot. Mitch Epstein's "India" tells you more about the country than a 14-part mini- series -- from the fine-textured embroidery of palm trees seen from a distance, to the mystical and strange Ganpati Festival under orange skies, where modern men covered with pink powder carry an enormous silver god-head to immerse it in the sea.
The American landscape, too, is lovely -- at least initially; then, as these photos are rife with metaphor, you look to see the blight of humanity. In Adam Bartos' meditations on Central Park, pollution turns the water an olive green, enhancing the scene's ethereal beauty.
John Pfahl, in "Power Places," reflects on industry carved from wilderness: Windswept trees stretch toward the placid Susquehanna River and Three Mile Island on the other side.
And Christenberry's weathered barns and crumbling shacks, tin roofs and vine-covered walls present an elegy to Alabama's rural landscape. Engaging in detail, they keep you staring, studying.
These southern scenes are particularly strong. If Memphis-born William Eggleston's series on Graceland has a haunted quality, chalk it up to the fact that Eggleston took his pictures in the evening, after the tourists left. And you'd only be half right. The rooms in Elvis' mansion ooze with kitsch, and something more.
William Larson's "Tucson Gardens" are bleached white by the noon sun. And though a colorful hose snakes through the cacti, the house is deathly pale. A chlorine-blue pool and its Clorox-white lounge chairs are deserted in the heat of the day.
Intentionally reminiscent of Farm Security Administration photographers, Joel Sternfeld portrays the denizens of Houston's Tent City. He contrasts the homeless with the affluent suburbanites he captures in Atlanta and Akron. In a Sternfeld photo taken in a state park in New Mexico, a boy wearing too-large, hand-me- down sneakers sits by his family's belongings, holds you with his sad eyes, and will not let you go. NEW COLOR/NEW WORK -- At Addison/Ripley Gallery, 9 Hillyer Court NW (Tuesday to Saturday, 10 to 5); Kathleen Ewing Gallery, 1609 Connecticut Avenue NW (Wednesday to Saturday, 12 to 6) Jones Troyer, 1614 20th Street NW (Wednesday to Saturday, 11 to 6); Middendorf Gallery, 2009 Columbia Road NW (Tuesday to Friday, 11 to 6; Saturday 11 to 5).