Review: Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography - MD Fed Art

June 02, 2014  •  3 Comments

Review:Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography

Maryland Federation of Art
shown concurrently with the Potters Guild of Annapolis
Dates: May 23 - June 15, 2014 at the MFA Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle Gallery, Annapolis.


"Art is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes."

Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924):


I go to photography shows for my own sake. I go, and then write about them, because every time I see some pictures that I like, it is an exercise of my critical sense to decide why I like them - and that sharpens up my own eye for any work I do in the future. Rarely do I write or even think about work that doesn't impress me; why bother?

As I see more and more, I have refined my criteria for what makes something impressive or good to me. In general I would much rather see a one person show or at least a show where each artist has multiple works. In a show where each artist is represented by only one piece, it is very difficult to see, think or say much about the artist.

That single work might be the absolute acme of that person's work, a lucky shot, an even-the-dumbest-blindest-squirrel-finds-an-occasional-acorn sort of thing. Or the picture might be the one 'thing' the photographer has discovered that works – and which is worked to death whenever he or she shoots.  I really want to know the photographer and I can't do that seeing only one image.

So a many-person show, like the MFA show, is really a measure of the entire membership of the organization and, if I am lucky, I see something that I like that would cause me to want to return to other shows by the same organization. I learn, not about the artist, but the organization and, in some respects, the curator's values.  Not really as satisfactory but, in the chance of seeing something really worthwhile that leads me to someone's total work, I go.

What am I looking for?

Art is creation, art is intent. I am not interested in the happy accident.

I look for pictures that show a creative mind and spirit, pictures that give me an idea what the photographer is thinking and why they framed and collected what they did. I am not concerned with technical execution as a goal, except that the execution should be so good as to get out of the way and leave me alone to look through the frame into the artist's creation.

What pictures do I ignore? Well, clearly the opposite, pictures whose entire worth is based on their execution, pictures that are a self-conscious trick, pictures that are essentially repetition of scenes or ideas you and I have seen a hundred times before. Pictures that have nothing to say except 'look at me because I've done something different.'

The Circle Gallery (, one of the galleries of the Maryland Federation of Art, is a neat, interesting, well-lit space right in the heart of Annapolis. Although the rooms aren't huge, they are thoughtfully divided and thus there is room for both the 70+ photographic images and the 20 or so small pottery pieces displayed. This is an open, juried show and the quality of the pictures hung are certainly several steps above the average camera club shows. The close to uniformity of the framing and matting gives the show a professional homogeneity that I associate with a commercial gallery; all in all, quite nice.

Since the theme was 'Fine Art and Creative Photography' I was spared the usual run of lovely, over-saturated landscapes and stark weathered barns – all printed too large to ignore; most of the pictures exhibited here are at least interesting and always well executed.  Unfortunately a few of the pictures were obvious mannered attempts to be creative and for me they fell short.

Art is hard and I was looking for something special.

Not just good work, not just excellence, but some ephemeral concatenation of idea, content and execution, where the whole is much more than the sum,  that makes me fall in love.

And 'love' is the important part.  I am not a 'critic', someone who can opine about the worth of a work of art in its absolute sense and decide where to place the work in the stream of art. I go to find something I love.

In the Godfather movies, when Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino before he became enraptured by Al Pacino) is in Italy hiding from the police and he sees his wife-to-be for the first time and instantly falls in love, the villagers say he is struck by a thunderbolt. Instantly, without planning or thought or reason, he is in love with this woman he sees. That's what I look for, that thunderbolt.

And that's how I felt about two pictures I saw in this show. I didn't care how they were conceived or planned or executed, once I saw them, I just fell in love with them as they were, as windows into the artist's world.

In no special order, since I couldn't choose between them, are the two I loved.

#68 in the catalog, 'Reflection', an archival pigment print by by Mel Talley of Virginia This is, rather than a composite made in post-processing, a multiple exposure done in camera and one of a series Mr Talley is doing on an abandoned hospital. (Really he shouldn't get more credit for doing it that way but I can't help but applaud the required skill and experience and patience that makes him create the 'hard' way.)   Even though the young woman, the reflection, is nude as much as we can see, the artist places her behind the shelter of the defects in the reflecting surface so that she is not 'naked' and thus so much less distracting.

Why is she there? Why is she a ghost? What is the building? The answers aren't important, the contemplation of the mystery is.

The picture is so perfectly composed, exposed and printed that, in the large print shown, it is almost overwhelming in its impact.

'Good' pictures, in my opinion, have the right balance of meaning, mood and mystery and thus engage the mind and the emotions of the viewer. This picture has all of those, in abundance. It might be less appealing to fans of the post-modern style because the content is not linked to some grand external idea; the image itself contains all the information needed and its appeal is to the personal rather than the cerebral; it is frankly traditional and emotional – and just about perfect.

The second picture is a beautifully done composite entitled “Self Portrait with Willow and Levi” created by Patricia Stockman of Frederick, MD. Any description of the work doesn't do justice to the unreal reality of it.  Beautifully composed, beautifully executed, the editing that we know must have been done is indiscernible, the picture is one entire whole mystery.

Because the viewer can see every element clearly, the mystery is more engrossing as one's mind attempts to parse all the components. Like a Vladimir Nabokov novel, it seems like every element, no matter how small must have some meaning, just because it has been included and placed so carefully by the artist.

Even the title, as it names the horses, gives a hint that the artist, in the picture but as a viewer herself, has a prior relationship so familiar that the horses are named friends rather than animals. That is as far as I would go in even attempting an analysis; it is satisfying to have this as a beautiful mystery without knowing any more.

These pictures and most of the rest from the show can be seen and purchased at If you can get to Annapolis, see the show, it is really worth the time and the trip.

Fine pictures, great show.

Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography
National Juried Photography Exhibition
shown concurrently with the Potters Guild of Annapolis
Dates: May 23 - June 15, 2014 at the MFA Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle Gallery, Annapolis.








What's happening, great internet site you've right now
John Petro(non-registered)
Your characterization of 'art' and the distinction between photographs that inspire and those that do not resonates with me. This is a very nicely written piece. And the two photographs that jumped out at you, well they jump out at me too. They are exquisite!

Please keep these coming.
Ed Brown. Oldhippy(non-registered)
Just love this review. Please keep them coming . Ed
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