Profound ignorance, profound misery, boundless faith and love: All are elements of the photography of Rosalind Solomon. A chronicler of unvarnished humanity, unabashedly in the tradition of the legendary Diane Arbus, Solomon travels the world searching, seemingly, for evidence of mankind's ignominy.
A collection of her powerful large-format black-and-white portraits of anonymous people from the American South, India and Asia and Central and South America is on view at Kathleen Ewing Gallery. From the image of a pathetic "Pregnant Construction Worker, Sakhu, Nepal" -- her hands and feet are disfigured by leprosy but she smiles for the camera anyway -- to the scary picture of a bloated, middle-aged "Man With Gun, Scottsboro, Alabama," these are images that cannot help but hit the viewer right between the eyes.
The works are uniformly devoid of erotic titillation; instead, they are dry and clinical. All of them have been shot with what you might call "malice aforethought." Some, such as the moving portrait of a "Couple Near Pikesville, Tennessee," wherein a woman with a strong, wise face has her arm about a rough-looking man -- perhaps a miner -- who has been blinded, are obviously intended to elicit pathos. The love is almost palpable. Most of the other works, however, are intended to shock, both in terms of the subjects sought out and depicted, and in the juxtaposition of characters and surroundings. Look at the small child, for example, standing amid the unfinished yet startlingly real-looking clay and straw statues of "Kali's Demons" in an artisan's work yard in Calcutta.
Whatever the degree of artifice, however, it doesn't in any way detract from the impact of Solomon's pictures, or from the quality of their execution. You will walk away from this exhibit with a few of these images indelibly impressed on your mind -- a Peruvian woman in a white straw hat suckling a lamb; an old but dignified woman with withered breasts dredging for fish in West Bengal; a startled-looking, bejeweled, middle-aged Tennessee woman in her bubble bath. Any of these faces might cause you to go home and examine your own face in the mirror, to try to see just what might be revealed there -- perhaps something you may not wish others to see.
Adamstein at Tartt
South African photographer Theodore Adamstein's moody Cibachrome seascapes at the Tartt Gallery are cut from a different cloth entirely. Rather than the tragic mundanity of the world's teeming millions, Adamstein chooses to focus on the ethereal beauty of evening light on the water of man-made tidal pools just south of Cape Town.
Formed by the building of concrete sea walls along the rocky shore, these pools fill with water as the tide comes in and provide swimming areas whose waters are rinsed clean with the next tide. In the evening and at night these odd-looking, moss-and-algae-encrusted walls -- many of which, we are told, lie just behind dwellings at the seaside -- have an eerie aspect, like the subterranean foundations of Atlantis, possibly, or the ruins of a civilization centuries ago flooded and left to mold.
Adamstein is a master of his medium, clearly, and several of these eight images are quite moving. However, they are all rather similar, and one finds oneself wishing that Adamstein hadn't restricted himself entirely to the same perspective in each: looking out to sea, rather than showing a glimpse of what is behind the camera. He might also have altered the angle of the camera a bit, rather than keeping it virtually at ground level in each one.
Wall's Sculpture/Furniture at Bader
Ah ... the difference between sculpture and furniture ... is ... well ... ?
At Franz Bader Gallery, the elegant lively wood, copper and steel work of F.L. Wall will pose the question. While some of this artist's pieces, such as the brilliant blue-stained wooden "Heron Bench/Table" and his series of "Nanticoke" chairs, are obviously intended to be both functional and sculptural, others are not so easily categorized.
Working with an eclectic combination of organic wood forms and geometric, seemingly industrial steel shapes, Wall just lets his imagination go, and in the process creates some truly charming objects. There is more than a hint of the famous furniture of Diego Giacometti (brother of the better-known Alberto). And yet Wall's sense of color and at times startling combinations of medium and form make his work immediately recognizable.
One of the nicest pieces in this small exhibit is a combination table and wall mirror, titled "Gazela." This set has a decidedly deco feel and yet manages to come off as completely contemporary. Finished with copper sheeting, in some places bright, in others annealed or finished with a green patina, it, like other works, is inset here and there with little triangles of various metals -- little unlooked-for surprises that lend his sculpt-furnishings charm and grace.
Rosalind Solomon, Photographs 1976-1987, at the Kathleen Ewing Gallery, 1609 Connecticut Ave. NW, through Nov. 28.
Theodore Adamstein, "Tidal Pools," at Tartt Gallery, 2017 Q St. NW, through next Saturday.
F.L. Wall, Recent Sculpture, at Franz Bader Gallery, 1500 K St. NW, through Dec 1.