Linda Connor is a time traveler. She takes talismans from the 19th century -- her large-view camera, the bulky film holders, her capelike focusing cloth -- and makes excursions into the deserts of the American West, the mountains of Peru and the northernmost reaches of India. The results are small, intimate, exquisitely crafted landscapes, 35 of which can be seen until April 12 at the Jones Troyer Gallery, 1614 20th St. NW.
Connor's methodology may be of the 19th century, but her interests range across millennia, not to mention epochs. Twenty of her photographs involve petroglyphs, rock carvings of lizards, leopards, deer and various geometrical symbols drawn by primitive peoples. They might be as old as the paintings at Altamira, or as recent as yesterday; the mountains, valleys and rocks of Peru or Arizona or India that surround them give us no clue.
This seems a deliberate strategy; we need not be archeologists or petroglyph specialists to feel the mythic weight of these carvings or understand how mysteriously and intimately they relate to their environments. All we need are Connor's perceptions. Connor's work can aptly be described as sublime.
First, there's her subject matter: the universe we (unthinkingly) share with the people who made these carvings. She attempts the transcendent in her content and often succeeds. There's a nobility, too, in her deliberate choice of the painstaking methods of 19th-century artist/craftsmen. Connor's gold-toned contact prints made from unusually large negatives result in a delicacy of tone, an exact relationship between light and shadow, and a precise rendering of detail -- all of which conspire to give these images their subtle imprint of authenticity.
If at first glance Connor's art seems retrogressive, it soon becomes obvious her photographs are very much of her own time. Look at "Cho rtens, Ladakh, India, 1985"; it is not only a photograph of a temple-like petroglyph but also a conscious tribute to Ansel Adams' famous 1944 landscape of a boulder-strewn valley, "Mount Williamson -- Clearing Storm," itself linked to the whole tradition of American western landscape photography. So, like much 20th-century photography, this is a photograph about photography.
It's also a photograph about history, archeology, comparative geology (reminding us that northern India and the American West are on the same planet) and sign systems. Sign systems are a very 20th-century preoccupation; semiotics, the study of signs and symbols, makes up a large part of contemporary esthetic and literary theory.
Fortunately, these, like the other multiple references in Connor's work, are allusions, not didactic statements. They give the work the moral weight it carries, the seriousness that underlies the pleasure her photographs give the eye.
Jones Troyer is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Henry Chotkowski at Brody's
Henry Chotkowski's original art is intensely preoccupied with the polarities of excavation and reconstruction.
The eight pieces in his show at Brody's Gallery, 1706 21st St. NW, are paintings, collages, "photoassemblages," scribbles, sculptures, rebuses, drawings, puzzles and puns of every description -- in short, art that should be experienced rather than classified.
One can enjoy Chotkowski's obsessions without fully understanding them. His work brings to mind Graham Greene's comment: "Every creative writer worth our consideration . . . is a victim: a man given over to an obsession."
One of this particular victim's obsessions is with seeing, monocularly and binocularly, a starting point that takes him into synchronicity, the chance repetition of images that assumes the character of myth and symbol because of its insistency. I must admit I found it curious that a relatively commonplace physical phenomenon, sight, should inspire such intellectual passion, but then this may be the part of Chotkowski's art that eludes me.
Chotkowksi is a metaphysical surgeon. He literally slices out a part of a magazine page (selected seemingly by chance) to reach an image below, which inspires him to cut to a page beneath that, thereby unearthing still another image, until eventually the excavations become their opposite: a reconstruction.
To cite an example: As Chotkowski pares away at pictures in the pages of a magazine called Modern Bride, the bride's whittled-away form eventually becomes a reconstruction of the bachelor football players pursuing her from the pages of another magazine (Southwest Football!) -- a play on Marcel Duchamp's work, "Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even." It's just another of Chotkowski's mysterious rebuses, fantastic conundrums and bizarre coincidences that perhaps not even the artist understands, much less his perplexed but entranced viewers.
This is murky, confused art, seemingly caught in the midst of its creation. It's risky and original, and originality almost always mystifies and irritates as much as it delights. Of course, once we're comfortable with something it is no longer original; it's either a classic or forgotten. You may not find the answers to Chotkowski's riddles in these pieces, but you will be delighted by the questions they raise.
The show at Brody's closes March 29. The gallery is open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.