Photos spice up usually calm Barco law library

Pitt News Staff | March 18, 2008

Just across from Towers, the fourth-floor Barco Law Library gallery is the temporary home to… Just across from Towers, the fourth-floor Barco Law Library gallery is the temporary home to the work of Pittsburgh photographer Tim Fabian and graduate student Bryan Conley. The space is quiet as only a library for harried graduate students could be, filled with the somber tones of law texts. The 10-print series of Fabian and Conley is displayed in the wall alcoves on either side of the central space. The exhibit is intriguing. Both photographers have made interesting explorations into the theory behind their work. The artists’ statements, however, proved more engaging than does their photography.

Teacher-Student Photographs by Tim Fabian and Bryan Conley Fourth floor library, Barco Law Building Runs through April 11, free admission

Known for his books “Bridges of Pittsburgh,” “Steps of Pittsburgh” and “Churches of Pittsburgh,” Fabian is an astute photographer – he is practiced at noticing the unnoticed and capturing it on film. The series displayed at the law gallery is a testament to his ability to play with perception, questioning the boundaries of the medium. Accustomed to film yet unacquainted with digital imaging, Fabian set out to discover what is unique about digital imaging. The results are inconclusive.

The photographs are digital to the extreme. If you were to press your eye up against the TV set while “Sesame Street” was on, you would approximate the feeling that the prints create. They are hectic, with the tone of each print primarily determined by its colors.

Although the prints began as objects or places, Fabian enlarged the images so that all sense of place or context falls away. In doing so, he widens the field of possibilities, allowing the viewer to interpret the work as he wishes. Without much suggestion of focal point, the eye is free to wander, seeing shapes and meaning where there might not intentionally be any.

By contrast, the work of graduate student Conley offers less visual scope, opting instead for a theoretical free-for-all. Conley’s goal with the series was to break the now-formulaic approach of contemporary photographers who produce great photographs that lack a larger vision or purpose. In other words, by distorting the vision of greats such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

To break the mold, Conley enlarged 10 pastoral photographs. The shots are a synthesis of long roads, trees and landscapes, interrupted only twice by a shadowy human form in the mid-ground.

Their sameness is distorted and made more complex by irreverence toward the conventions of enlarging. The prints show the outline of the negative, the film sprockets visible, with outrageous rips and scratches over parts of the image. Conley asks the viewer to question the value of a pleasing photograph that does little other than satisfy the desire to record a corner of the world. His work reminds us that photographs need the energy of a larger purpose to affect the world beyond the square inch frame of a negative.

Though not easily satisfying, pondering the purposes and effects of Fabian’s and Conley’s photographs makes for an enjoyable tramp through the law library. Located right on Forbes Avenue, you can kill some time while waiting for the bus. Then look up Fabian’s website and check out Conley’s thesis show on April 4, at Pittsburgh Filmmakers – I have a sneaky feeling their best work isn’t hung up in the law gallery.