Amy Beecher, Aspen Mays, Klea McKenna and Brent Wahl

Philadelphia Photo Arts Center

Through June 10

By Leigh Van Duzer

Artists working with abstraction and process in photography release the medium from its business-as-usual routine, allowing for infinite visual possibilities and highly associative works. While almost all photographic processes include some element of representation, even if only of light, it can be refreshing to see realist subjects becoming abstract through the removal of context, or to discover evidence of the art-making process becoming the work itself. Remainder, the current exhibit at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center deftly curated by Christopher Gianunzio and Sarah Stolfa, includes several approaches to abstraction and process-based work.


Brent Wahl plays tight visual games with abstraction and representation. He shows two types of work in this exhibit, both straightforward camera-made images that appear totally abstract or non-photographic. The first is a group of small, concise geometric patterns, and the second is a pair of black and white images of dust (or cosmos or trash) that appears to be the remnant of an explosion on earth or in outer space. We know we are looking at something specific, but the source is so obscure that the images appear neither real nor virtual.


The beloved photogram is explored by Klea McKenna, who transforms a theater in San Francisco into a darkroom by placing theater light gels over holes in doors and windows, allowing the light streaming through to expose photographic paper. The resulting images are gorgeous and abstract; rich in color, motion and mystery. The work becomes subjective, open to association, and exemplifies the liberation of photography from the strict representation of objects.


Amy Beechers’ impressive pieces are corporeal in concept and presentation. Using her own body and her experience of making each work, she translates motion and painting into a massive fabric scroll that drips from the ceiling and folds across the floor. It resembles a transcript of a performance, a stained tablecloth, and an abstract expressionist painting all at once. The piece blends photography with printmaking and painting to transcend medium specificity, speaking to the incorporation of photography in a larger contemporary art dialogue.


The cosmos is the ostensible subject of Aspen May’s work, Sun Ruins. Her images come from discarded negatives documenting sunspots, but their formal grid presentation trumps the subject matter, becoming a repeating pattern of whites, grays and blacks. Recontextualization of scientific documentation is a strategy used by other artists appropriating photography, but here the subject is so accessible that it becomes a larger meditation on time and the infinite.


This exhibit is exciting and exuberant, barely containing the energy the artists have infused in their work. The transformation of objects or light into abstraction leads to the transformation of photography itself.


Leigh Van Duzer is a Philadelphia-based artist whose work has been shown internationally, including galleries in Philadelphia, New York, and France. Leigh is a recipient of the Daisy Soros Prize, a Vermont Studio Center fellowship, and received her MFA from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010.