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TO DEC. 24
Mississippi is 1,000 miles or so from Washington, but in recent years, there’s been no shortage of photography from the Magnolia State in D.C., including works by Maude Schuyler Clay, Birney Imes, Jack Kotz, and Tom Rankin. Compared with the work of this quartet, Michael Lang’s is less arty but arguably grittier. Lang, a Ph.D. who lives in Takoma Park and works at the National Institutes of Health, has practiced photography since his youth in ’50s Baltimore, where he did a striking series of photographs of the characters who inhabited local pool halls. In this Touchstone Gallery exhibition, Lang explicitly invokes the long tradition of black-and-white American documentary photography: The exhibit’s core is work he’s done in recent years on behalf of the Mississippi Center for Justice, an advocacy group for the disadvantaged, plus a smaller series of images that document the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (An untitled photo from the series is pictured.) Rundown trailers, disintegrating houses, and bored children in bleak landscapes predominate, but Lang offers the occasional surprise, such as an elementary school phys-ed class in Jackson, Miss., in which the kids strain to exercise—mixing humor with the harder realities of poor nutrition and health. It’s unclear how long Lang spent with his subjects, but he seems to have gained the trust of Robert, a teen with a drug record and a stint in a youth prison; the image of Robert sitting on a couch with his mother and girlfriend seems especially candid, with wafting cigarette smoke highlighted by a lushly grainy print texture. Visually, the post-Katrina images seem more perfunctory, but they serve as a reminder that deprivation can emerge seemingly out of nowhere. The show is on view from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, to Saturday, Dec. 24, at the Touchstone Gallery, 406 7th St. NW. Free. (202) 347-2787. (Louis Jacobson)