Abington Art Center
by Gordon Stillman
When I walked into Micah Danges’s Solo Series exhibition at Abington Art Center, I was impressed by the quietness of the work. It was the type of quietness that makes your visual senses hyperaware, searching out every detail in the work and even in the architecture of the gallery itself.
The works are highly reflective objects with portions of silver gelatin prints depicting leaves in white frames, or pigment prints of abstract photo-collages on a variety of media. The highly reflective pieces are mesmerizing, about the size of a large glossy magazine. They share many of the same seductive qualities as a perfectly printed silver gelatin print (like say, an Ansel Adams) that seems to contain a depth and richness beyond the surface––like actually looking into space. But with Danges’s work, the surface reflects the immediate surroundings—including the viewer’s reflection—disrupted by a falling or decaying leaf, or a change of viewpoint.
The abstract photo-collages stem from an original image, titled Key, 4-6, displayed near the ceiling on the gallery walls. The original image contains two abstract shapes similar to torn paper or broken leaves on a dense gray background, reminiscent of digital noise. It is flat against the wall, the closest thing to a pure image in the show, lacking any kind of physical presence. Through scanning, reflecting, and repeating, Danges created a lineage of images from this original. Three of the descendants of this image are on the walls, the most striking being the Mirror, Reflection pair. One image is printed on knitted voile, a thin natural fabric, and the other is created by the ink that is left on the backing paper of the voile, the spaces between the knit creating a type of negative, or offset, of the first image.
What is most interesting about these works is their reliance on photographic process and thinking. Even if Danges thinks about materials and drawings before photographs, he is still waiting for the right images to converge with the materials. With minimal use of a “straight” or un-edited photographic image, these works become image-making objects. That is, the object’s physical presence is necessary for the image to be created. For example, the knitted voile creates the image on the backing paper by covering certain areas while leaving others exposed. The reflective pieces include an extra step, engaging the actual space of the viewer to complete the object and the image.
This combination of photographic process and materials addresses tensions and problems present in how we see and what we understand––themselves heavily influenced by photography, particularly the optical lens that privileges a singular viewpoint at the expense of others. Danges’s work presents multiple ways of looking and finding images, providing room to reconcile multiple viewpoints. Discerning a single image can even be difficult as the reflective pieces constantly change and confuse our sense of virtual and real space, denying a single static image as the viewer moves.
This show demonstrates the joys of looking carefully as the connections between different processes of making, seeing, and ultimately being begin to reveal themselves. But it also demonstrates how easy it is to pass over these connections because they are quiet and easily ignored, especially as we consume images at an ever-quicker pace.
Gordon Stillman is an artist living in Philadelphia, primarily working in photography. He recently received his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania and currently teaches at Lincoln University.