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Play of images

`Truths and Fictions', a recent exhibition of photographs by American artist, George Woodman, appealed to the psyche of the viewer, compelling him to unravel the meaning of each work.

IN `TRUTHS and Fictions', an exhibition of photographs by American artist, George Woodman, at Amethyst, photography takes on the mantle of the magical and the `miraculous.' His photographs are of non-moments, of stasis in time, and by overlaying and combining images using different techniques, Woodman's prints seem to transcend time. A creative person, he is a painter and a photographer and has taught theory of art and painting at the University of Colorado till his retirement in 1995. He was an abstract painter for 30 years and was not interested in subject matter. This spills over into his photography where by photographing photographs he tries to prevent the subject matter from becoming all-important. Woodman feels that photography is usually bound by the subject matter of the split second and he seeks to remedy that by making the photograph itself the subject of his art. This post-modern aspect of showing the `language' of photography is perceptible in his carefully orchestrated play of images with myriad suggestions. The works speak volumes, appealing at first to the psyche and then drawing the viewer within to unravel the meaning behind the composition.

A well-attended illustrated lecture by the artist explained not the mere mechanics of this technical art, but the passionately creative thoughts that led to the evocative prints. An obvious sensuality in many of the prints has been achieved by the combination of the female nude with sculpture. The juxtaposition of the idealised female form with the real feminine presence, the classical with the contemporary and the past with the present, results in a certain dreaminess that appeals to the senses. `Sculpture with Amaryllis' effectively marries a female form from Indian Hindu art with a head and torso of a Western Classical female nude, which is heightened by the superimposition of a negative image of an Amaryllis blossom.

Images that were never meant to be together are fused to bring new meaning, a fresher perspective. Truth can no longer be separated from fiction, with each form existing within and sharing another's space. References to art historical sources abound, merging with various imagery of trivia such as a jug, a safety pin, flowers or even a dragonfly.

In `Rachel with a dragonfly' the photograph within the photograph depicts Rachel in a moment of undress, reaching behind to perform a familiar task while in the foreground, hanging on a string, is an open safety pin alluding to the specific nature of Rachel's action. The dragonfly on the photograph serves to create a new spatial plane almost forming part of the viewer's space.

`Sasha with Still Life' is an exquisite tableau of a photograph of a young woman with water jugs, which occupies the space of the young woman in an enlarged picture.

This play of images results in the ambiguities of space, of `truths' and of `fictions.' Woodman delights in the poetic metaphors that emerge when he searches for the similarities in polarities. For instance, in `Dionysus', Woodman combines human images of living flesh and lifeless sculptures. The common factor that links the otherwise unrelated figures is their shared gaze. Their separate spaces are unified by the similarities in their stances leading the viewer to discern a `story' within the fictional space.

The multi-layered complexities of Woodman's works are balanced by the simplistic inventiveness that the black and white photographic medium lends itself to. He feels `the best way to see pictures is in the dark, inside your head.' His prints speak to the senses and have to be seen to be experienced, the viewer emerging decisively richer from the experience.


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