THESE CHILLY scenes of winter make it easy to identify with landscape photographer John Pfahl. He lives in Buffalo, New York, a place that would seem to be too cold for his profession. His solution was to photograph "Picture Windows."
In his photo show, one of three at Jones Troyer Gallery, we're on the inside looking out, often at picture-postcard views. It's the Grand Canyon, through a huge hotel window. Below us, a middle-aged couple sits, serenely soaking in the splendid panorama of the ancient rusty canyon. Like distant gods, we contemplate the tourists on the big screen.
In another photo, we gaze out at the endlessly flat, still ocean, from a Maui hotel room decorated with an orange rug and plastic flowers. It is Pfahl's way to take grand scenes and bring them down to size, while elevating the commonplace -- like the vista from a window in San Francisco, of a stolid white brick wall. Or the attic-window view of tile-roof tract houses in L.A.
In a previous series, "Altered Landscapes," he applied his own lines and elements to what he saw, on the order of Cristo's installations: running string to connect two trunks of a coconut palm, placing sticks to make angles in the Great Salt Lake.
For "Picture Windows," he uses whatever is available to make his statements: the louvers in jalousie windows, to distort our view; venetian blinds and the ropes that window-washers leave dangling, to add geometric lines to the picture. A window screen softens the distant pink cliffs in Arizona to make the photo more like a minimalist painting.
Pfahl lets the photo go dark at the window frame, producing a frame within a frame. Frequently, the window frames cut the scene in three, and the photos end up as triptychs. It's a formal device, but a funny one when the window is in a snack bar at Parrot Jungle, and each lush panel has its own bird feeder.
Photographers never run out of subjects; they just run out of new ways to see them. It doesn't look like that will happen to John Pfahl. The same may be said of Ruth Thorne-Thomsen. She too demonstrates the continuing possibilities of the medium, with her surrealistic "Views from the Shoreline." They both re-invent the landscape. But while Pfahl uses a big 8-by-10 view camera, Thorne-Thomsen uses the very primitive pinhole camera. Yet the effect of everything being in focus is the same for both.
Thorne-Thomsen cuts silhouettes from her previous landscape photographs and sets them into the real landscape -- sticking the paper heads in the sand, for example, in a dry New Mexico basin. The pinhole camera she uses throws things wildly out of scale: The Colorado River wends its way through the classical profile of an Adonis and stately clouds flow through Athena's head. The face is a place.
Victor Landweber's photos of old cameras make up the third show here, and they strike a monotonous note. He is stuck in the esoteric effort of photographing cameras from the '40s and '50s. Some of them -- those cameras that are naturally black and white -- seem to possess demonic faces, when looked at long enough. We are charmed to see that there was an "Imperial Debonair" -- it was racy red with a wristband -- and a Boy Scout camera, a Hopalong Cassidy camera and a "Lady Carefree." These photos do indeed take us back in time -- to Pop Art, and Warhol's soup cans.
There's no holding back Marcia Gygli King. At Wallace Wentworth Gallery, one of her exuberant seascapes starts out as a painting on an easel, then rolls into waves that thunder off the canvas and on to the frame, spilling onto the easel and rippling down its legs. She paints a portrait of irrepressibleness.
It's the same issue John Pfahl confronts in his photos -- a questioning of the convention of the frame, a bridling against containment.
"Southampton Storm" is King's tour de force -- gale force. Surrounded by an enormous, undulating baroque frame, the painting crawls with colors. The aurora borealis sky looks like something by Frank Stella. Her work, when done in heroic proportions like this, taking up an entire wall, can have the same sort of presence as his constructions.
But when she paints without the frame, her work tends to pale -- maybe the neighboring blast overwhelms it. And smaller seascapes -- which she vignettes in snowy Styrofoam frames -- stand on little white gnome's feet and are static, like television sets tuned to the same station.
JOHN PFAHL, VICTOR LANDWEBER and RUTH THORNE-THOMSEN --
Photographs at Jones Troyer Gallery, 1614 20th Street NW, through January 23. 11 to 5 Wednesday through Saturday.
MARCIA GYGLI KING: MONOPRINTS --
At the Wallace Wentworth Gallery, 2006 R Street NW, through January 30. 11 to 6 Tuesday through Saturday.