CEPA Gallery annual members' exhibition

Through March 19

CEPA Gallery, 617 Main St.

This year the CEPA Gallery annual members' exhibition is, as it tends to be, a fair survey of the multiple approaches and varied techniques that currently rage through the field of photography. The show gives a good idea of how photographers today work synthetically, combining digital technologies with traditional photographic techniques or cross-fertilizing with ideas borrowed from painting, assemblage and even sculpture and installation art.

Although the inkjet print is rampant here, there are probably some entirely digital-free examples - but then I can only guess on that. Artists will naturally take advantage of the wealth of digital effects, electronic aids and shortcuts, even when their aim is to produce the serene look of an old-fashioned in-the-camera photograph. When it comes to collage effects, as many examples in the show attest, there is hardly much point any longer in dragging out the scissors and glue pot.

In this wide-open world, the once-hemmed-in photographer is free to head in any direction he likes. Take Bob Hirsch. His "The West (proto-type)" consists of blackish, electrostatic prints rolled up in glass containers and displayed in a stacked configuration that looks like a very grim grocery display. The images - a mix of authentic Western photographs (Indians, military men, performers, longhorns) and old movie images (Roy and Dale, Hopalong) - are blurred and slightly abstracted by the imprecise process and hang in their dark cylinders like indistinct memories where real life merges with the movies. These are interesting images once let loose from their jars. (I've seen them blown up, flat on the wall.) As installation, they are certainly intriguing, but I'm wondering if it's not just a matter of beefing up the presentation for theatrical effect.

Theatrical effect can be achieved within the image itself, of course, as David Mitchell forcefully demonstrates in his "Somehow She Knew They Were Fakes." Keying on old master painting (the light is super-crisp Caravaggio), Mitchell has fashioned a strikingly convincing photographic rendition of a late Renaissance composition of Madonna and child surrounded by suppliants. The scene, so authentically reconstructed, is brought screaming back to our time by the incorporation of a conspicuous anachronism: the surrounding figures are offering up Louis Vuitton bags for the Holy Mother's infallible eye. It's a very elaborately staged joke in period dress.

Gerald Mead's pieces are not photographs at all but object homages to photography and film. One assemblage is composed of an old projection bulb mounted like a miniature lamp around which is neatly wrapped a thin film strip that hangs free. Useless and static, its image too small to be read, the object is a forlorn commentary on the illusion of moving pictures.

Take any category - abstraction, say - and you will find multiple instances here. There's Michael Anthony's high-colored overheated abstraction that strives mightly for painterly effects. There's Sara Barry's quite grisly abstractions achieved by photographing bodies close-up. And there's Jonathan P. Piret's blue-hued landscape that has been given a systemic linear revamping so extreme that it looks a photographic nose dive into an overworked etching.

Ordinary found-in-nature abstractions are here and so are those oh-so-tricky Adobe-made abstractions that are a plague on the art of photography. The snapshot aesthetic appears in a number of works, as well, its honest off-handedness often bolstered by self-conscious ploys that inform us that this is indeed intentional art.

Montage lives, and to take advantage of its well-established psychological effect Michael Bosworth, in two imposing prints, presents his subject ("White House, East Gate" and "White House, West Wing") in three registers of varying readability, focus and cropping. Christine Gatti, for her part, rephotographed the presidential debates ("Before November") and arranged four tiny images - all but illegible in their saturated red-white-blue color scheme - in a square like so many tiles.

Catherine Berlin chooses to manipulate the single image in "Orange Malmo," a brilliant view of bland architecture - a "corporatescape," you could call it - in which colors are heightened and burned away at once.

Photographers of varied sorts - Kara Hill, Josh Marks, Donna Fierle, Marcia Gibbs - still manage to squeeze out new life from tattered conceptual modes. Seemingly from the other end of the photographic world, true documentary photography, unrehearsed and emphatically real, appears in Errol Daniels' photographs of Santeria ceremonies in Havana, Cuba. Jennifer Kloth and Gary Carlot also follow more traditional documentary methods, while Chuck Terranova and Julio Alvarez apply a kind of otherworldly radiance to ordinary industrial subjects. Mickey Osterreicher shows historic shots: "John Lennon at Madison Square Garden, 1972" and "George Burns at Shea's 1979."

More compelling perhaps is the rigged documentary, Edgar Heap of Birds' "Smile for Racism" being the prime example. Heap of Birds made and installed the sign that carries his caustic commentary. Is the billboard in Adriane Little's "Resuscitation 101" artist altered? It's hard to say. But if not it must have caused a stir on Easter. "Call Home Mothers Dead," it reads. The greater puzzle for me is, why no apostrophe?

Two still lifes hanging near one another banged heads. Biff Henrich's carefully composed shot of aluminum-colored apples (one with an ash-colored bite out of it) evokes some of the mute horror, reported by neurologist Oliver Sacks, experienced by a man who lost his ability to see color. This is the natural world sucked of all sensual appeal. Will Contino's "History One," meanwhile, posits a timeless vessel, standing in stately proportion and cloaked in the patinated atmosphere of history.

Louis Grachos, Albright-Knox Art Gallery director, selected the exhibition and awarded future CEPA solo exhibitions to Mitchell and Gatti. Heap of Birds got the best-in-show award.