Mark Power, well-known Washington photographer, Corcoran professor and critic, has now added "novelist" to his list of accomplishments. His new show at Kathleen Ewing Gallery consists of 15 paired photographs, each pair accompanied by a brief text. Collectively, the series spins out a taut but ambiguous tale titled "Biography of an Anonymous Woman."
Starting with the words "She didn't remember much of her childhood," written under a dreamlike image of a baby in frilly playsuit, the narrative tracks the life of this fictional woman, through the departure of her father when she was 7, past adolescence ("She couldn't wait to become a woman"), and on into marriage, middle age and, finally, the inevitable in "Death was not what she imagined."
The words themselves are admirably brief (testimony to Power's strong writing ability), but, taken together with the images, they are sufficiently evocative to involve the viewer right from the start, making the show -- like a good book -- hard to leave unfinished. There is no leading lady or single identifiable personage among the players (the images come from existing photographs Power has taken of family and friends); thus the viewer is forced to conjure the central character out of his or her own imagination and to gather meaning from the realm of personal experience.
Responses, therefore, are bound to be highly personal and varied, though, inevitably, some of the 15 stations along the road of this life are more powerfully expressive than others. "She couldn't wait to become a woman," for example, is intrinsically provocative in its pairing of a neutral image of a young girl sitting anxiously in a chair, and a highly sensuous photograph of a female figure sprawled on a bed, a suggestive overlay of shadows playing over her torso.
There is humor, notably in "No one prepared her for the realities of marriage," the particular reality here being an excessively hairy-chested male. But there is also poignancy, especially in "Her father returned to observe she was grown up." Here, an older man sits in a garden with his grown daughter (actually Power's father and sister), and one senses the inevitable generational distance between them. That distance is underscored in the second picture (one of the few taken in sequence), in which a child runs into the woman's lap, placing her in the pivotal parental role, as the grandfather's face (and generation) blurs out.
Some of these paired images could probably stand alone without benefit of the narrative, such as "She often wondered about her future," though the narrative somehow never seems intrusive. What is intrusive is the sense of contrivance in some of the images dealing with old age and death, where Power's customary empathy seems to be missing, perhaps lost in the simple desire to wind up the project. "In the course of her life she lost a husband a dog and a child in that order" (pictured here) seems altogether too exploitative and slick to me.
Power did not make these photographs with any particular motive in mind: "I've tried that," he says, "and it comes out wooden." He was simply pairing existing images, and when roughly half of the 15 pairings were complete, he says they began generating their own narrative. He has been in a novelistic frame of mind of late, which may explain it: In addition to two previous photographic series with words, "Imaginary Stills From the Life of Rita Hayworth," and the fictional "Fragments of a Forgotten Past: A Biography of Victor O. Carroll," he has just finished writing his first novel. He says it will have no pictures.
This show, his first solo in Washington in six years, will continue at Kathleen Ewing's newly expanded and renovated gallery at 1609 Connecticut Ave. NW (Suite 200) through Oct. 31. Hours are 11 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday. Erica Lennard
India has recently captured the imagination of several photographers, among them Erica Lennard, better known for her moody, romantic Perry Ellis ads. The current Govinda Gallery show deals with her most recent personal project: photographs of India, taken during two trips made last year. These large black and white images were prompted, she says, by a desire to show the side of India that few photographers aim their cameras at: "the exquisitely beautiful shrines, temples, parks and palaces where there are no crowds, and where people are happy, not hungry." The best of these photographs show the same ability to distill timeless images from magical places demonstrated in her series of "Ruins" shown at Govinda last year.
Here, the Taj Mahal rises from the mist at sunrise, as does the splendid Stok Palace in Ladakh (Shangri-La); but we are shown spooky places as well, including a frightening pathway through the City Garden in Bangalore, filled with goddesses and snakes. Though the images vary in interest, one, titled "Monkey Valley, Galta," is unforgettable as a band of monkeys is dissolved into an otherworldly aura. The show will be on view from 11 to 5 through Saturday at Govinda, 1227 34th St. NW.