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TO MARCH 26
Usually, a portrait is about the sitter. But for Max Hirshfeld, a Washington-based photographer, it’s equally about the backdrop. For his One Shot series, Hirshfeld took posed photographs of pedestrians in Washington and other cities. Hoping to capture what a gallery release calls “a single moment, a single exposure, a single person,” Hirshfeld employed a straight-on, head-to-toe format, amply lit; he printed his pictures big by using an inkjet process. Though Hirshfeld’s images are posed, they’re also notably casual: Several of his subjects neglected to set aside the flimsy plastic shopping bags they were carrying, and one kept chomping away on his bag of pretzels. The sitters’ appearances are often intriguing—one middle-aged Asian man gives off an embarrassed but winning smile, and a man in a wheelchair inexplicably totes a microwave oven on his lap (Robert Kairy, Washington, 2003, pictured)—but Hirshfeld’s found backdrops keep coming to the fore. Some walls are decorated with orange and red circles in the style of Benday dots; others are made of bricks painted a shade of teal or created from whimsically shaped cinder blocks. Hirshfeld’s insistence on such compelling backdrops makes it hard to believe that his images are as spontaneous as his guiding principle suggests. Also on view are 15 vintage black-and-white prints by the late Eliot Elisofon, a longtime Life magazine photographer; many document the rural Southern poor of the ’40s. One Shot is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, to Saturday, March 26, at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1515 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 234-5601. (Louis Jacobson)