Review | In the galleries: Old-time technology with a contemporary twist


The photographic processes devised by such 1830s pioneers as Louis Daguerre and William Fox Talbot were influential but soon abandoned. Yet these anachronistic technologies still work, and are employed by contemporary artists such as the seven contributors to “Timeless” at Photoworks. The title of the show refers not only to the enduring utility of early photo methods, but also the slightly eerie quality of contemporary pictures made with 19th-century procedures.

Of the eight modes represented in the show, the most common today is cyanotype, invented in 1842 and long used to make architectural blueprints. For Redeat Wondemu, cyanotype is an ideal medium for studies of women in Ethiopia, which she visits regularly. Whether recording a forthright gaze or focusing on just arms and hands, Wondemu makes pictures that are intense and evocative.

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Photographic technologies from some 150 years ago require long exposures, so the show consists principally of still lifes. Mac Cosgrove-Davies presents a placid, extremely horizontal scene of the Hudson River, made at a location with no hint of modernity. Sebastian Hesse-Kastein’s landscapes are starker, but his tight vignettes also convey a sense of pulling places out of time.

Scott Davis focuses on European and Mexican buildings, often in close-up, with baroque and Moorish details; he also captured the Glen Echo Park sign on a picturesquely rainy night. Both Rodrigo Barrera-Sagastume and Paige Billin-Frye offer cityscapes. Some of Billin-Frye’s are beautifully hand-tinted with watercolor or toned with tea.

Introduced in 1997 but rooted in 19th-century methods, the ziatype produces crisp imagery and a wealth of color. William Shelton uses the technique to document crabbing, depicting piles of shells and the elaborate lattices of traps. Brightly hued and exquisitely detailed, Shelton’s pictures are much like other the “Timeless” photos: everyday, yet gently fantastical.

Timeless: Historic Photo Processes in the Digital Age Through Aug. 14 at Photoworks, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo.

One photograph can link to another via theme or subject matter, but also simply through a shared color, shape or composition. That’s the lesson of the collaborative exhibitions at Multiple Exposures Gallery, experiments that worked so well in the past that the photographers’ collective decided to stage another one. The 11-artist show snakes from one wall to the next and back again, correlating 44 photos by various kinds of visual logic. Perhaps by design, half the images are black-and-white and half in color.

The show is all one sequence, but subsidiary series materialize within the larger succession. One subset begins with Soomin Ham’s picture of Chiharu Shiota’s Sackler Gallery installation of shoes linked by red twine. Next up is Sandy LeBrun Evans’s close-up of a bull rider’s boot and hand, followed by Sarah Hood Salomon’s downward selfie of her own foot in motion. The run concludes with Van Pulley’s shot of a Cuban girl on a scooter, her foot playfully posed in midair.

More wide-ranging yet still cohesive is a grouping that begins with Timothy Hyde’s photo of Richmond highway viaducts that tower over a park. It’s followed by Alan Seilen’s picture of a vintage train whose plume of steam echoes the shape of a tree in the previous image. The antique steam engine leads to Eric Johnson’s photo of abandoned heavy machinery in Buffalo and then to Matt Leedham’s picture of an overgrown derelict temple in Cambodia. The four-image lineup hops continents, one visual rhyme at a time.

Collaborative Exhibition Through Aug. 21 at Multiple Exposures Gallery, Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria.

Made mostly of steel or bronze and usually painted, the complex Craig Schaffer sculptures on display have a jagged industrial character. Yet the spiraling, modestly scaled metal assemblages in the Zenith Gallery-programmed lobby space can suggest plants and flowers. They’re sturdy and ephemeral at the same time.

The show is titled “ColorWise” and also features Khalid Thompson’s exuberant collage-paintings, which are vividly hued and — to judge from their titles — inspired by jazz and other Africa-rooted music. Schaffer’s art provides fewer, and quieter, colors than Thompson’s, but its leafy greens and rusty browns are crucial to its appeal. The subtly gradated tones of pieces such as “Expanding Galaxy” do as much as the curving and sometimes teetering forms to convey a sense of flux and volatility.

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A few of the sculptures have different sorts of surfaces. “A Rose Is,” a cluster of variously sized circles, is shiny and patinated rather than matte and painted; the inward-twisting “Tectonic Ying-Yang” is coated with red and green lacquer that makes the piece appear to be ceramic. Other constructions are partly covered with pigment that has been scraped or worn away, revealing coarse, rigid steel. Even as their most organic, Schaffer’s artworks revel in their metallic qualities.

Craig Schaffer and Khalid Thompson: ColorWise Through Aug. 13 at Zenith Gallery, 1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

The paintings in the Robert Novel retrospective at Hemphill Artworks are austere and geometric, yet also playful. Nearly all the untitled abstracts are black and white, but they’re in multiple shades of those hues, and occasionally include planks of gray. And though the forms are simple, straightedge and mostly quadrilateral, they’re handled in ways that hint at 3D perspective. The paintings were made between 2015 and 2020 by Novel, a longtime Washingtonian who died in 2021.

Like the 1960s Washington colorists, Novel left raw canvas (or linen, which is slightly darker) to contrast the painted areas. But he also employed white pigment, and one of these pictures is merely an hourglass-like hexagon, rendered in textured, milky paint on off-white linen. Other compositions position elementary black shapes on blank canvas but insert subtle white forms that are visible only on close inspection.

Most dynamic are the pictures in which jauntily arranged trapezoids, grouped tightly together, appear to fracture. The fault lines vary in width and don’t always bisect the entire figure. The effect is to give the painted forms an illusion of weight and to suggest that the process of splitting is ongoing. The shapes are just hard-edge blocks of black — or in one case, blue — but Novel knew how to give them heft and animation.

Robert Novel Paintings Through Aug. 13 at Hemphill Artworks, 434 K St. NW.

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