Sandra Russell Clark, whose work will grace Phototroph Gallery's walls for the next few weeks, is a photographer with a fine Southern sensibility. On view are three different series, created in the '80s and '90s in Mississippi, Louisiana, Italy, France and Delaware. In Europe and Delaware, Clark photographed gardens; in Mississippi, landscapes; and in Louisiana, cemeteries. They're very different subjects, yet to view them is to move through the same dream -- evocative, half-remembered, evanescent.
Clark uses a 2-1/4-by-2-1/4 view camera, infrared film, and a lot of darkroom magic to create her extraordinary images. Hers is a world of fog and mist, of air that is dense and palpable, of forms and landscapes half-seen, at the edge of perception. The prints, often brown-toned or sepia-toned, have a deliberately antique quality. You imagine that these sculptured angels, this ruined mansion framed by live oaks hung with Spanish moss, this fogbound bay, are long vanished, captured by the lens of some 19th-century photographer.
Clark's "Elysium series" -- eight 16-by-20 images taken in the "Cities of the Dead," the aboveground tombs in Metairie, La., St. Louis, Miss., and Greenwood, Miss. -- is simply amazing. Crosses, carved angels, mausoleums; the whole elaborate jumble of 19th-century funereal art and architecture becomes vividly alive. Only the dead reside in these cities of marble and stone, yet Clark's photographs force us to consider both the extraordinary beauty of these intact cities from the 18th and 19th centuries, and the fact of our own mortality.
Look, for example, at "Greenwood Cemetery -- Dark Crosses." Stone crosses are silhouetted against a darkening, misty sky. There are buildings, graves and a tree branch, but the light is fading and uncertain. We see very little -- and it's all that we'll ever see.
Clark's is an art of absence, of subtraction. The living are absent; only the artifacts of death, the tombs and sculptures, are to be seen. And the photographer is absent; you don't feel her restless presence (as you do, for example, with Laura Gilpin, Myron Wood or Andrea Modica), you simply experience each photograph as an unmediated object, as if it had floated unbidden into your consciousness.
Clark, a self-taught photographer and New Orleans native, will be at the show's opening on Nov. 7, and again on Nov. 8 for a gallery walk at 2 p.m. Her work is both extraordinarily good, and -- typically for Phototroph -- very reasonably priced.
If you're sensible enough to snap up "Dark Crosses," for example, it'll cost you all of $550 -- just about what you'd pay for some monstrous piece of schlock at one of the so-called "art galleries" that you'll find next to the big box stores on North Academy. Pass up the schlockmeisters, and go for the real thing.
-- John Hazlehurst
capsule In Search of Eden
Photographs by Sandra Russell Clark
Phototroph Gallery 218 W. Colorado Ave. (underneath the bridge)
Opening reception: Fri., Nov. 7 from 5 to 8 p.m.
Book signing and gallery talk: Sat., Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. Show runs through Nov. 22
Call 442-6995 for hours and details