Digital enhancement has spurred many a debate over whether an image is still a photograph after it has been manipulated. The technique also provides a handy umbrella theme for curators who want to place disparate art under one roof.
The Society for Photographic Education is exploring how computer images are re-creating photography in "Dialogue.art.technology.imagery," its first exhibition in the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center's Main Gallery. The show follows a similarly themed show, "Process: Painting, Printing, Photography, Projection," presented in the spring at the Laurel center.
"Dialogue" displays 41 pieces by 18 artists from around the country that show a range of art-making processes. Tai Hwa Goh, Steven H. Silberg, Ann Stoddard and Christopher Saah are the four artists from Maryland selected by jurors Cheryl Junger, director of the Photography Institute at Columbia University, and Sonya Lawyer, chairman of the Society for Photographic Education's Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference. The show coincides with the conference next month and runs through Oct. 28.
"The [work] gets people to start to talk more about the issue of digital images. We didn't just include straight computer art; we included more strict photography to create the discussion around the work," said Lawyer, an artist who is also an adjunct Web design professor at Howard Community College.
A discussion of what constitutes a digitally enhanced image is likely, given the wide variety of exhibited works, some of which have not been altered. Among the images are some that seemingly have little to do with digital processes, including a large-scale oil on canvas painting, traditional color photographs and printmaking using Korean wax paper.
"We weren't going to include straight photography [or the other works], but we felt that those things added to the discussion. There were some things that were so completely manipulated that they didn't fit for some reason because they looked so digitized," Lawyer said, describing works not chosen for the exhibition.
Goh, of College Park, is one of the artists whose technological processes are not digital. The printmaker made two abstract images using layers of hand-waxed Korean paper.
She said her work attempts to foster a dialogue. "I want to make layers because our words, memory, experience, my body and the process of art-making is all encompassed in infinite layers," she said.
Because of more obvious high-tech influences, other pieces fit better into the show's attempt at a digital discourse. There are images made of scanned strands of hair, digital shots of typewriter keys in clear candy wrappers, collages mixing digital and non-digital images, portraits that superimpose thumb prints over the faces of foreign students, and videos.
Silberg, an artist from Baltimore, created "96, 33-95," the exhibition's entrance piece, which consists of 30 digitized square prints that show an ice cube melting through colorful images of varying lines and shapes.
Stoddard uses video images to explore surveillance and profiling in the post-Sept. 11 era. "Home.land.security" employs a television monitor split into four screens. The Adelphi artist has juxtaposed oral and written questions dealing with ethnicity and nationality, footage of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and images of the viewer taken from her own surveillance camera.
"Ever-changing juxtapositions of text and image, of question and seeing yourself next to Guantanamo Bay kind of brings everything very close together," Stoddard said. "It isn't that those people over there are unrelated to me. Everybody's kind of in the same place," she said.
Lawyer said she was surprised that there were not many political pieces such as Stoddard's, considering that there were more than 100 submissions for the show. But, true to the multifaceted exchange of ideas she hopes the show will inspire, Lawyer said, "I guess the technology is a political issue in and of itself."
"Dialogue.art.technology.imagery" runs through Oct. 28 at the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center, 12826 Laurel-Bowie Rd., Laurel. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and admission is free. 301-953-1993.