Matthew Gamber’s exhibition “New Takes,” on view through January 24 at Hagedorn Foundation Gallery, uses the medium of photography in a highly textual way and presents us with a meta-commentary on lenses, eyes, and the information that can pass through both. The Boston-based artist employs pictorial restraint to direct us to intellectual narratives embedded in the process of making these works.
The exhibition includes 22 works employing a diverse range of processes, from silver printing to laser engraving. This grouping of 22, however, is best viewed as four works of art, each of which consists of series of five or six separate objects. The series is an important part of Gamber’s conceptual framework, and his intentions are clearest when these groupings are understood. His lengthy titles help the viewer to separate the works into distinct categories according to their intentions.
Five silver gelatin prints come from a series titled This is (Still) the Golden Age. Gamber intends a double reading of the word still: meaning both motionless and continuous. Silver printing produces an exceptionally rich black in the right hands, and these prints present us with vivid inky black fields in which blurred images hover. They create the impression that we are moving towards them through a void or a tunnel. Gamber made these prints by pressing photo paper directly against television screens. The long exposure and the lack of a focal lens results in a blurred ghost of an image, a print of many television moments melded together. In Wimbledon, we can roughly discern a tennis court, and two hazy forms indicating players in their service positions. One operation of the photograph is to freeze a moment in time, but here Gamber emphasizes the dubious nature of this phenomenon.
Any Color You Like is another series that investigates the way in which black-and-white printing can change information conveyed by color objects. This simple shift is used thoughtfully. Blue Birds Exhibit is exactly what the title states: a display of preserved and labeled birds. The photographic artifact that we see is compared to the taxidermic artifact that is represented. Blue birds become black birds. Ishihara Test in Lite-Brite gives us the standard color-blindness test, rendered in colored pegs, then robbed of color through black-and-white printing.
When an artist works in series, the presentation of multiple works is crucial to the viewer’s understanding of the artist’s intentions. The decision to include four separate series in an exhibition of only 22 works restricts this survey. The series that suffers most from this dilemma is Gamber’s Lost Color of Mannes series, in which he explores the visual landscape of Leopold Mannes, the co-inventor of Kodachrome. He documents the play of light across various interior surfaces that Mannes may have contemplated, encouraging us to imagine the inventor fantasizing a kind of color map. This is a compelling idea, but one that begs a cycle of works much more extensive than the four prints included in this exhibition.
In the series Basic Ingredients in a Complex World, Gamber loosens his conceptual armature slightly and allows himself more latitude for invention. In a statement about this series, Gamber mentions “perceptions that can be true and false simultaneously.” This statement articulates a fundamental paradox in photography: we know pictures may not depict reality but we believe them nonetheless. Gamber plays with this paradox articulately, with the formally restrained hand evident in such works as Shattered, a laser engraving on acrylic apparently derived from a photo of a broken window. The sheet of etched acrylic bears the contour of the window’s cut edge, but otherwise it withholds pictorial illusion from us. As we recognize this image, we are also acutely aware that we are looking at a flat sheet of material. The acrylic becomes a doppelgänger for the glass while also serving an illustrative purpose.
Debris (1) and Debris (2) show us wooden rubble rendered in old-style red-and-blue 3-D. I have endured a number of headache-inducing 3-D artworks and was quite relived to encounter an artist who could make this 1920s technology work. In fact, getting things to work is one of the quiet strengths of this exhibition. Gamber handles diverse processes with finesse and subtlety.
Gamber does not take perception for granted, and he does not want the viewer to take it for granted either. In a time when photos are a ubiquity of daily life, it is easy to forget the strangeness of the technology we are using and the perceptual games that we are relying on. “New Takes” zeroes in on the perceptual phenomena that we take for granted.
Orion Wertz is a painter and graphic novelist living in Columbus, Georgia. He is a professor at Columbus State University, where he teaches drawing and painting.