A handful of photo shows in town are taking us off the beaten track, from Palladian villas in northern Italy to housing projects in Northern Ireland. For some of the photographers, the travel provides a departure point for the rocky terrain of the inner landscape.
At Jones Troyer Gallery, Philip Trager's dreamily lovely architectural photos speak to a time long past, when architect Andrea Palladio peppered the northern plains of Italy with palatial farmhouses. Trager is as enthusiastic about the 16th-century style as Thomas Jefferson was when he modeled Monticello after it, and it shows in the photographs.
"The Villas of Palladio" are seen in isolation from modern life -- empty, wistful relics. Palladio's most famous villa, La Rotonda, stands alone on a hill like a Greek temple whose worshipers have died off. Around it, the misshapen earth is like an ancient burial mound blanketed with dandelion tufts. Stubby trees are the denizens of the deserted hillsides.
Out of this rises a portico of Ionic columns. Statues wave their greetings from the rooftops of the buildings flanking the entrance road to the central mansion. How gentle, yet imposing, are these classical buildings in the midst of a field. They are impressive in their symmetry, yet close up the stucco is peeling from the pillars, the statues are losing their features.
Trager's photos are moody and melancholic. The elegant statues in the Villa Barbaro's nymphaeum -- literally, temple of the nymphs, modeled on a Roman pleasure house -- seem to mourn. Trager makes gelatin silver prints, cool in color. This adds to the feeling of something just out of reach -- the lost antiquities of Greece and Rome, and the works of Palladio, whose reinterpretation of classicism made him the most influential architect of the Renaissance.
Also at Jones Troyer are selections from Londoner Paul Graham's disturbing, large-format series "Troubled Land." Graham sees like an outsider looking in: He views the conflict in Northern Ireland from a distance. Instead of the usual photojournalistic approach -- Belfast confrontations in newspaper black and white -- he shows us broad landscapes in almost garish hues that say all is not well. All is not well because somewhere within these rolling hills, among the elm trees or the row houses, there is a small sign. You have to look for it: a curbstone painted Union red, white and blue; graffiti that says "IRA Lover" and "Beware"; a tree that sports partisan posters.
Graham has his dialogue with the countryside; people are conspicuous by their absence. In the best of his photos, the pastoralism is deceptive: The inviting, grassy fields lead to a hedgerow, and in the center towers a single tree. At the very top of the tree flies a Union Jack. But gather what message you will; Graham is showing, not telling. And he's keeping at a safe distance.
"The Villas of Palladio" by Philip Trager and "Troubled Land" by Paul Graham will be at Jones Troyer Gallery, 1614 20th St. NW, through Oct. 24. The gallery is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Wallace Wilson at Tartt
Wallace Wilson, whose poster-size and larger photos are at the Tartt Gallery, doesn't even tell you where you are. It's part of the game in his very involving pictures. He is, first of all, a rule breaker. In these photos, there is usually something out of focus in the foreground -- such as a large Irish setter that walks into the viewfinder. Wilson takes his shots from cockeyed angles that mystify. He leaves the viewer wondering how much is accidental.
In one photo, an enormous baby statue with glistening gold skin sits like a Bauhaus Buddha. Curiously, there are shopping carts parked next to it. Three adults -- shoppers? supplicants? -- stand in the shadows before it. If you ask around at the gallery, you can learn that the photo, "Baby Statue," was taken in a Paris toy store. But the artist is right not to put it into context. It's far more interesting to see this image as a paean to babydom, with the adult world falling back in awe.
Wilson seems to enjoy frustrating our curiosity and our instant need to identify and qualify. It is not necessary, really, to know where in France "Pictured Markers" was shot. That would interfere with the strangeness of these headstones, with their cameo-shaped photos of the dead and epitaphs that begin, "Repose Pierre ... " The markers crowd into the foreground as if marching toward the viewer -- no, they are like greeting cards arranged on the mantelpiece.
Wallace Wilson's work will be displayed at the Tartt Gallery, 2017 Q St. NW, through Oct. 17. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Jacqueline Hayden at Brody's
Wilson assumes a pose of amateurishness to good advantage -- pictures out of focus, photos of dogs and children. So does Jacqueline Hayden, whose recent work is displayed at Brody's Gallery. She wiggles the camera and uses exposure times that are too long. There are other similarities between the artists. Both Hayden and Wilson introduce elements of abstraction into familiar situations, and both toy with issues of appearance and reality.
Hayden has recorded a series of "Sightings" of weird wildlife. For this, she has traveled to the four corners of the zoo, and to the very ends of the natural history museum.
They look alive, these animals Hayden has sighted, but are usually stuffed -- like the polar bear with its great maw open to display multiple sets of teeth. The animals' coloration is often bizarre, the result of fakey museum lighting. And Hayden pokes fun at the dioramas that resident biologists take so seriously. "Ordovician Seascape" is swimming with primitive squid that wear gaily striped caps, as if for a birthday celebration.
Some of her scenes fall flat, little more than trick photography, pictures of penguins or white-caped colobus monkeys taken while the camera was moving. But Hayden's use of long exposure times is very effective when the camera is trained on moving animals. "Zebra in the Bronx" saunters through the scene. And in her photo of an aquarium, goldfish are transformed into vibrant red storm clouds enveloping the jungle house, which, you have to remind yourself, is merely an aquarium accessory.
"Sightings" by Jacqueline Hayden may be seen at Brody's Gallery, 1706 21st St. NW, through Oct. 2. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
David Morowitz at Robert Brown
David Morowitz, whose recent work is at Robert Brown Contemporary Art, takes pretty pictures. His photos are clear, crisp, controlled, not a "mistake" in the bunch. They look like something out of an annual report. Unlike Hayden and Wilson, he takes the expected picture; there is nothing here you haven't seen before. For example, in a photo of a woman's hand holding a cigarette, only the lack of a manicure keeps the picture from looking like an advertisement.
His nostalgic pictures of the American South, of the faded-barn-door-and-peeling-paint school, are the best of the lot. But his still lifes, monumental images of what's on your table, are sterile. Morowitz's slickness and proficiency seem to be working against him.
"David Morowitz: Recent Photographs" will be at Robert Brown Contemporary Art, 1005 New Hampshire Ave. NW, through Oct. 3. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.