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New talent and missed connections in Emerging Visions

For those accustomed to seeing the same artists recycled endlessly on the local gallery circuit, Emerging Visions suggests curators and gallery owners could stand to dig a little deeper.

There is a surprising amount of great work in this biannual survey of 32 student and newly emerging artists. But some potentially fascinating connections between the artists and shared themes are not exploited in the show's haphazard installation, which is more interested in simply presenting the work than offering the kind of careful arrangement that would highlight the artists' similarities.

There are several consistent themes in this surprisingly meaty show presented by the Atlanta Photography Group, an artist-run, nonprofit organization devoted to promoting photography as a fine art.

One of the most obvious features of Emerging Visions is the majority of women photographers represented. Whether that is a local phenomenon, reflects a national trend or simply says something about the predilections of the show's juror, local art critic Jerry Cullum, is impossible to divine.

Many of those female photographers offer critical re-evaluations of how women have been portrayed as objects in traditional photography. Lyndsy Welgos' "3 x 3" offers a chilling examination of the array of glances that greet a woman standing in her dressing room like a bird in a pet shop cage. Welgos' purposefully creepy, sophisticated commentary shows how women are variously surveyed -- and cleverly uses closed-circuit cameras as stand-ins for countless appraising male eyes.

There are provocative similarities in how the women photographers take critical control of the camera, which can be seen in the alternative images of the female body by Welgos or Rose Barron or Tahara Portis. But their shared approaches are left unacknowledged.

One of the most memorable images in Emerging Visions is Portis' frank, tender "Unhooked," a portrait of an overweight woman gingerly removing her bra. It stands out not only for what it says about female r epresentation but for its poignant insight into our vulnerable, fleshy human geography.

There is a recurring theme in the show of psychological entrapment echoed in confining domestic surroundings. Such notions emerge in Jenny Levine's somber portraits of young women in their homes, or in Blair Hoover's luscious, formal portrait, "Mom, Nan & Ugly," of two women locked into the narcotic contemplation of a television set.

Joy Drury Cox (who will also be featured in a forthcoming Saltworks exhibition) and Niki Hancock both offer views of domestic surroundings that reinforce themes of the home as a less than ideal sanctuary. Hancock offers an arresting "self-portrait" of the artist's face only partially viewed in a dresser mirror and nearly lost amidst the clutter of daily life accumulated on its surface.

Cox creates images of domestic furnishings so dull they are nearly laughable, from the absurdly coordinated bathroom decor in "Blue Bathroom Wreath" to the vanilla carpeting and recliner featured in "Blue Green Armchair." Both images are so blank they seem portentous, like the calm before some storm. Efforts to personalize and cozy-up these domestic settings only emphasize their inherent impersonal ugliness.

But for every salient connection made by placing Cox and Hancock's works in close proximity, there seem to be plenty of missed connections left unexplored by the show's juror. Such is the case with Adam Waterson, who uses similarly neutral surroundings that echo Cox and Hancock's domestic banality to find something telling about our world. Waterson's "Vacancy: Space For Rent" conjures up notions of loneliness, anonymity and pine boxes in his study of a wooden chest whose drawers have been left open, as if recently rifled through in the wake of someone's death.

The photographers in Emerging Visions are not simply individual "discoveries" but artists exploring issues of cultural alienation, post-feminist re-evaluations of self, the industrial landscape and other issues that connect them to national and international trends that strengthen their vision.

Also overlooked are similarities between work by Nahna Kim and Penny Colangelo. Both artists show photography's debt to its kissing cousin -- cinema. Kim creates infectiously witty Asian noir images, framed like a color-drunk Wong Kar Wai movie scene, of a femme fatale and her less empowered -- because they appear to be dead -- male companions. While Kim's scenarios have a woman-on-top appeal, Colangelo's similarly noir "A Hundred Eyes" explores a more traditional Hitchcockian vision of woman-in-peril. In her dark, pulpy "film still," a woman watches television while a shadowy figure behind her peers through binoculars.

A show this large needs some organization or vision to tease out the fascinating links between the work. Emerging Visions is ultimately rewarding for offering not only a window into another world, but also a thoughtful glimpse into our own.

Felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com

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