Extreme Exposure

Various artists

Laughing at the Sun Gallery
through September 7

Photography just doesn't get the respect or recognition it deserves. All too often, photography is viewed as either a hobby or a job, rather than an art form. This view probably stems from a too-common perception that photography is so simple -- just point and click! -- and can be accomplished by anyone from Aunt Bessie to your kid brother.

In reality, photography is an art form as demanding and limitless as any other. Pardon the cliché, but a good picture really is worth a thousand words, and you can bet a good photographer has worked hard to discover a voice for those words. (Plus, having photography as a passion can be a real logistical headache; if you think it's tough to find space for your easel, try tracking down a darkroom.)

Fortunately, professional photographers eschew those thankless odds and keep on clicking. For those of us who believe photo-graphy truly is an art form, this show provides a little validation. The works in it prove photo-graphy's ability to be a feast for the eyes. The gallery's walls are literally covered, from floor to ceiling, with photos by 27 established and new artists, and, as you might expect, the works vary greatly in style and content. But I narrowed the photos down to two basic categories:

First, there are the somewhat traditional photos, straight-ahead pictures with no treatments or special effects, such as Thomas D. Bleich's huge panoramas. The most eye catching is a shot of Oklahoma City; it's a seemingly normal, bustling day in the downtown area, except for the shattered, ravaged carcass of a building standing precariously in the background. Marla Sweeney's works also follow a traditional style. She often does portraits of the elderly and seemingly downtrodden, none of whom seem aware -- or seem to care -- that their pictures are being taken. "Christmas Party 1995" is a childlike moment in the lives of nursing home residents; the smiles and bright colors are ironic in the depressive room.

Then there are the experimental photos, in which photographers use varied techniques to get unusual effects, ones that can transform photos into ethereal, dreamlike images. Jennifer Nelson's hand-painted photos depict everyday folks, whether pierced or tattooed or overweight, as winged angels against neon-colored backgrounds. Brenda Ladd's use of pinhole photography gives nudes the appearance of pixies frolicking in the forest. Another approach is Casey McKee's use of liquid light on chiri paper; the technique, which is somewhat like silkscreen printing, gives the nude images the look of aged chalk drawings. Perhaps the most unusual works are Jack Rehm's shadow boxes -- painted cracked relics with stark images waiting for you inside.

The beauty of this show is its great diversity; no one method receives more recognition or space than another. The gallery is almost cramped with photos -- it's somewhat difficult to view any photo without taking in some of its neighboring images -- but it's a treat to see so many subjects, colors, and styles on the walls. Gallery owner Darryl Colburn said he felt it important to display emerging as well as established artists, and simply to provide space for all kinds of photography. Perhaps there are enough extraordinary images here to rebuke any visitor's notion of photography as a silly hobby. -- Cari Marshall

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